Former track star Adoree' Jackson is a football player at heart
The first thing that jumps off the screen when watching Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson play is his speed. Jackson has an extensive track background, something that can be met with skepticism on the football field.
Often track athletes who play football have their toughness questioned, and past NFL players who were known for their track prowess -- think former wide receivers Willie Gault (Bears and Raiders) and Renaldo Nehemiah (49ers) -- were often viewed as projects and not solely as football players.
None of that has been the case for Jackson, whom the Titans drafted 18th overall in 2017. He is a football player who happens to have track speed.
The Titans used cornerback Adoree' Jackson as a return man last season in an effort to unleash the rookie's electrifying speed. His longest punt return was 46 yards and his longest kickoff return was 57.
"I never thought I had to prove I was a football player and not just a track athlete," Jackson explained. "I am a football player, and that's where my heart is."
Jackson said he wasn't really a "football guy" until he got to high school. He discovered who Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson were, and though both impressed him, they were not his sole inspiration for playing multiple sports.
"I saw how Bo Jackson played multiple sports. Deion did multiple sports, and then I figured out Allen Iverson did it," Jackson said. "I fell in love with basketball growing up, and I ended up running track. I felt like the more I do, the more I brought to the table."
Jackson's track accolades include winning the 2015 Pac-12 championship in the long jump and being part of USC's 4x100 relay team, which placed fourth in the 2015 NCAA championships. He also finished 10th in the long jump finals during the 2016 U.S. Track and Field Olympic trials by jumping 7.83 meters (almost 26 feet).
His basketball background helped Jackson develop the ball skills he needs on contested throws, as if he's getting a rebound. He said it also forced him to be scrappy. Most of the time, Jackson was not the tallest; but like it did when he was a youngster, having a "dog" mentality allowed him to level up to the bigger competition.
Last season as a rookie, Jackson was named a starter at cornerback opposite Logan Ryan. Jackson finished with 70 tackles, three forced fumbles and 17 pass breakups. However, he was not able to register an interception. With Ryan returning and the addition of free agent Malcolm Butler, competition will be stiff in Tennessee's improving secondary this season.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel likes how Jackson plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame would indicate and hopes to see him make plays after getting interceptions.
"He plays the deep ball well for a guy that is under 6 feet. He can jump and has loose hips. If we can get the ball in his hands, get some interceptions, he can score with it," Vrabel said.
Pairing the physical ability with the mental aspect could make Jackson a special player. Defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs is particularly fond of how mad Jackson gets when his man catches a pass. Even though it angers him, Jackson doesn't allow it to negatively affect the next play.
"We say MMCNB [My Man Catches No Balls] -- that mentality is what makes a lockdown corner," Jackson said with a smile. "You just have to go out there and know you're the best; but they get paid to make plays too. At the end of the day, if they make a play, I am looking to make a play on defense that will top that."
Jackson attributes a lot of his competitive spirit to growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he said life was always all about competition. He has a sister, Lekisch Williams-Keene, who is 14 years older, and a brother, Chris Jackson, who is seven years older, which forced him to match up against bigger, older athletes at an early age.
The competitor in Jackson spills into the classroom, where he continues to learn his role in new coordinator Dean Pees' defense.
"The more he sees things, the more he will learn how to anticipate it and not rely just on his ability, but to use his head too. I think he has a great understanding of the defense. I've seen him advance from OTAs and minicamp," Pees said.
Pees commended Jackson for his ability to learn from mistakes and avoid becoming a repeat offender. One area where Jackson has shown improvement is in developing patience in coverage.
"We work on our patience and making sure we move our feet first, then use our hands," Jackson explained. "Understanding what the split is and use our leverage knowing what we can or can't take away. You have to stay with your man, stay patient and stay square with the receivers."
Vrabel offered his take on Jackson.
"Patience is something that is critical. You need to read the route and anticipate," the coach said. "He has the ability to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, as well as playing off-man."
Jackson will get a chance to test his coverage skills against speedy receiver DeSean Jackson (no relation) when the Titans host the Buccaneers for joint practices before they face each other in Saturday's Week 2 preseason game (8 p.m. ET).
Now entering his second season, Jackson wants to show that the other aspects of his game are catching up to his speed. New teammate Butler likes what he has seen from Jackson.
"The guy is very athletic, and he works hard," Butler said. "He's already a pretty damn good corner. The kid is special."