Keynodo Hudson, then a defensive administration assistant at the University of Southern California, made the connection the instant Adoree’ Jackson arrived on campus.
The size, the position, the dynamism in the open field. The similarities were striking.
“He used to call me ‘Little Pacman,’” Jackson said. “After that, it pretty much stuck.”
A dozen years after the Titans drafted defensive back and return man Adam “Pacman” Jones with the sixth overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft, their most recent first-round selection, Jackson, drafted 18th overall in April, will have the opportunity to meet the man whose game he’s long modeled.
Jones returns to Nashville for the first time since his tumultuous tenure ended with a suspension from the NFL for off-the-field conduct — including six arrests and 12 incidents involving the police, which cost him the 2007 season — when his Bengals face the Titans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Jones had four interceptions and led the league with three punt return touchdowns in 2006.
The Titans traded him to the Cowboys for a fourth-round draft pick in 2008.
“He's grown a lot since then,” longtime Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said on a conference call with reporters this week. “I was very close with (former Titans coach) Jeff (Fisher) and we had a lot of talks. Jeff talked to me about him a bunch. I think he's grown up a lot since those times.”
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Jones has spent the last eight seasons in Cincinnati, and was named first-team All-Pro in 2014.
The 5-10, 186-pound Jackson said he’s studied Jones’ game since he started playing cornerback in high school.
“Same size, electrifying with the ball in the hand, plays DB, return man, so that’s how I’ve always viewed it and seen myself, just being a scrappy guy,” Jackson said. “He’s got long hair. I’ve got long hair. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. That’s how I just seen myself as growing up, when I switched to the cornerback position.”
But the likeness is primarily on the field, not off the field, right?
“No,” he said. “I’m like Pacman on the field.”
Those similarities were noted by teammates, and a nickname bestowed by Hudson — now the defensive backs coach on Lane Kiffin’s staff at Florida Atlantic — became part of Jackson’s identity at USC.
“In college, he always just called me that — ‘Pacman, Pacman, Pacman’ — and that’s what got me more and more into liking his play…” Jackson said. “That’s what they called me. It was just ironic.”
Jackson was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, when he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football. He led the Trojans with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups, added 55 tackles, recovered a fumble and returned two kicks and two punts for touchdowns.
Jackson has started all eight games for the Titans this season, recording 35 tackles, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. He also returns kicks and punts, but has yet to break one for a score, having what would have been an 80-yard punt return touchdown called back by a penalty in a Week 3 victory against the Seahawks.
Last weekend, he received a snap on offense, blazing for a 20-yard gain on his lone carry in a victory against the Ravens.
“He’s making some plays we haven’t had made around here in a while,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “Really, if you watch him. He’s making some dang good plays, and he’s tackling well.”
Jones, meanwhile, has started all six games he’s played this season. He has 17 tackles, three pass breakups and has averaged 27 yards on three punt returns. The Bengals are ranked in the league’s top 5 in pass defense.
“He's very knowledgeable about the game, he studies,” Lewis said. “He's learned to train and keep himself in tremendous condition. He's very physically tough, he's played through nicks and injuries and so forth. He wants to be out there each and every day and help the football team. He lends a lot, knowledge-wise, and is able to help guys on the field with the opponent.”
Jackson would like nothing more than to snag his first career interception and return his first career touchdown against the Bengals on Sunday, then meet Jones after the game.
“Just to tell him I looked up to him growing up,” Jackson said, “and I just respect everything he did, and thank him for being a DB his size, being out there grinding, returning balls. I know he’s like 34, been in the league for a while, and he’s still out there doing it with the best of them. So I’ll just say thank you.”