The potential that Chevis Jackson showed the Atlanta Falcons as a rookie gave the franchise reason to believe they could expect bigger things in Year Two for the 2008 third-round draft pick.
His rookie season saw him play in all 16 games, starting three–including the NFC Wildcard matchup against Arizona. His lone regular season interception came in Week 10 against the Saints.
It wasn’t just any interception though; it included a 95-yard return for a touchdown, second-longest in franchise history. It came in the final two minutes of the game and served to put the final nail in the coffin of the 34-20 win.
Three of his five pass break ups came in that game and when he made his next start, in the playoffs, he added another and notched the team’s first playoff interception in five seasons.
Jackson, who he earned First-Team All-SEC honors as a senior, was bursting with potential.
But 2009 didn’t go as planned for many of the defensive backs for the Atlanta Falcons.
The team played musical chairs at the position, rotating corners in and out of games and Jackson appeared to be a forgotten man.
As the 2010 season approaches, Jackson still appears to be forgotten. The signing of Dunta Robinson to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback is expected to improve a pass defense that ranked 28th last season. Additionally Brent Grimes and last year’s rookie Chris Owens played well down the stretch to give a glimpse of hope.
The team also spent a fifth-round draft pick on Dominique Franks, a highly-regarded corner from Oklahoma. It marked the third straight season a cornerback was taken in the first five rounds by the Falcons.
Jackson believes the improved depth can only bring good things.
“Competition makes everybody better,” Jackson said on Sunday following the team’s final minicamp practice. “Everybody’s out here trying to work, trying to get better. It’s going to make us all get better.”
He and the other members of the secondary aren’t concerned about the addition of Robinson and his presence moving everyone down one slot on the depth chart. He believes a veteran of Robinson’s ilk can bring experience to a predominately young group on both the field and the sidelines.
“Dunta’s been in the league for a while. He’s taking guys like me, Chris, and Grimes under his wing and telling us what he saw, who he’s faced, and giving us little tidbits. That’s going to help us tremendously.”
Jackson ended last season with 15 games played, but did not record an interception. He predominately assumed the nickel cornerback role, a role the team may be reconsidering.
Known as a shutdown corner during his college career at LSU, the Falcons put Jackson at the outside corner positions during the team’s three-day minicamp this past weekend. The results are early, but positive. Jackson recorded an interception and played at a high level all weekend.
The performance didn’t go unnoticed and Jackson may be beginning a new introduction process to the coaching staff.
“Chevis, I think in Year Three, is a lot more comfortable,” Head Coach Mike Smith said on Sunday. “I thought he got more snaps at the corner position this camp than he has in previous years. He’s basically been exclusively our nickel back, but he got some good snaps in camp at the corner position.”
Jackson spent the offseason with teammates Owens and Thomas DeCoud in the California-based Performance Gaines NFL Offseason Training Program. The 5’11” corner enjoyed working out with his teammates “on their side of the country” but also believes it was a success.
“It went well,” said Jackson. “I lost a couple of pounds. I got a little bit fitter, a little bit more flexible. Everything the offseason is supposed to do, trying to get bigger, stronger, and faster.”
Playing cornerback, however, is more than a physical game, and Jackson believes he may have lost some of the instinctual aspects of his game. He’s spent this offseason studying how to regain that.
“I’m just trying to get back to where I was in college,” he said. “I’m getting real comfortable with everything: being able to figure out offenses, where they’re trying to go with the ball and get good reads on plays.”
If Jackson can return to his rookie form, what was once a glaring weakness could quickly become a deep strength for the Falcons. With Robinson leading the way and the maturing youth, physical play, and athleticism of Owens, Grimes, Jackson, and Franks (and returning nine-year veteran Brian Williams) the coverage position may be in good hands for years to come.
No matter what happens Jackson wants fans and the coaches to remember him.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “I’m trying to get better every day. I’m working hard; working on my craft, technique, and trying to learn the game better. Hopefully I’ll earn a spot and hopefully I’ll have a better year.”
ATLANTA FALCONS OFFSEASON COVERAGE
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