Our countdown of players ready for prime time in 2013 continues today as we switch back to the defensive side of the ball by revisiting the Notre Dame secondary.
Bennett Jackson has made an impact from day one
Since stepping foot on the Notre Dame campus in the summer of 2010, Bennett Jackson has made his presence felt. Originally recruited as a wide receiver by then head coach Charlie Weis, Jackson decided to stick with Notre Dame after Weis was let go and Brian Kelly was hired.
Jackson spent his freshman season on the offensive side of the ball, but the biggest impact he had a frosh in 2010 was on special teams were he excelled as a gunner on kick and punt coverage. Jackson’s performance was so impressive in 2010 that he was named the special teams player of the year over a kicker who had a near perfect season.
Jackson’s performance on special teams also caught the eye of the Notre Dame coaching staff as they looked to fill in some holes in the depth chart they inherited from Weis and his staff. The Irish were in need of some corners and with his athleticism and the work he put in on special teams, Jackson became a prime candidate for switching to the defensive side of the ball.
In the spring of 2011 Jackson ditched his old #86 jersey in favor of the #2 he wears now and moved over to defense.
Bennett Jackson excelled as first time starter, despite injury
After a year of standing out on specials teams once again and learning the cornerback postion, Jackson found himself in the thick of a cornerback competition heading into spring football. Lo Wood was the only returning corner with experience on the Irish roster leaving Jackson and incoming early enrollee Tee Shepard as the primary candidates for the other corner spot. Shepard, as we all know, never made it to spring practice after leaving the University shortly after enrolling leaving Jackson penciled in as a starter before spring ball ever began last year.
Notre Dame’s corner back situation became even more dire last summer when Lo Wood was lost for the year leaving Jackson, a converted wide receiver with zero career starts, as the most experienced cornerback on the roster.
Despite his lack of experience, Jackson excelled in his first season as a starting cornerback for Notre Dame. The New Jersey native collected 65 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and picked off four passes a season ago all while playing most of the season with a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery.
Jackson injured his labrum last spring but did not undergo surgery until after the season electing to play the 2012 season through the pain. While playing through that pain, Jackson helped Notre Dame turn a potential major area of weakness into a relative position of strength last year that should only get much stronger in 2013.
As Jackson gets ready for his final season in South Bend, he will be looked at to replace the leadership Notre Dame lost on the defensive side of the ball with the graduations of Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore
A healthy Bennett Jackson can set himself up nicely for next April
Healthy heading into the 2013 season, Bennett Jackson is shooting up NFL Draft boards already. CBS Sports has Jackson listed as the #4 CB eligible for next April’s draft already after his impressive starting debut last year. If Jackson can improve upon his already strong performance from last year, he shouldn’t have any problems being selected that high in the draft either.
Jackson intercepted four passes last year despite playing through an injury all season long. All four of Jackson’s interceptions were in close games too. He intercepted Denard Robinson in a 7 point Notre Dame victory. He picked off Robert Marve twice as well in a three point, last minute win over Purdue in September. His fourth pick came in the early goings of Notre Dame’s overtime thriller over Stanford.
Should Jackson improve on his 2012 performance and work his into the first few rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, he will reverse a trend Notre Dame would loved to see reverse. Notre Dame hasn’t had a cornerback selected higher than the 5th round in the NFL Draft since 2001 when Brock Williams was a 3rd round pick by the New England Patriots. It’s been even longer for a first or second round corner out of Notre Dame. The last corner to get picked in the second round in the draft was Bobby Taylor by the Philadelphia Eagles 18 years ago and it’s been 20 years since Tom Carter was selected in the first round of the 1993 draft by the Washington Redskins.
Jackson has been an impact player anywhere the Notre Dame coaching staff has used him throughout his first three seasons and that won’t change in 2013. Jackson is primed for a big senior season that very well could earn him some All-American attention by the end of the season.
It’s been over a decade since Notre Dame has had an All-American cornerback. Jackson has a great chance to change that this fall.
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