It’s not a great secret that Tennessee’s secondary is a major concern this season. In fact, there is only one player who should be considered a dependable playmaker: safety Nigel Warrior.
After that, the pickings get slim.
Enter Theo Jackson.
One has to be a pretty learned fan to know much about Jackson, who will be a sophomore this season. However, Jackson may end up being a key cog in the defensive backfield for the Vols this season and beyond.
Fans saw a glimpse of this when Jackson intercepted a pass during the Orange and White game in April. That’s the kind of playmaking the Vols are looking for out of their safeties. Surely, that got the attention of UT’s coaches.
Jackson had already made a bit of name for himself with UT’s last coaching staff. During preseason camp in August, Jackson was one of the first Vols to have his black helmet stripe removed, a sign that he had earned his coaches’ respect. Jackson would go on to play in 11 games last season. His stats – just eight tackles – were modest, but simply playing as a freshman is an accomplishment.
Of course, last year’s coaching staff is gone so Jackson now has to prove himself to first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt and staff. While there are plenty of other candidates to fill UT’s other safety spot next to Warrior, Jackson is well worth keeping in mind.
First, Jackson stands 6-foot-1. That’s the size (or close to it) that Pruitt is looking for in his defensive backs. Second, Jackson could be a rangy compliment to Warrior, who would be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage if Jackson – or any other Vol – can be a dependable free safety.
That’s plenty of responsibility considering it’s the last line of the Vols’ defense.
This summer will be huge for Jackson. It could be argued that summer workouts are every bit as important for skill-position players as spring practice. Jackson could also benefit from adding more weight. He was last listed by UT at 178 pounds. That’s light.
There will be other candidates for UT’s free safety position, however, Jackson shouldn’t be counted out just because he’s young and unproven. He’s not a household name, but he’s one worth noting.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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