It’s ok to think of the man in the mirror, thriller and maybe even the youngest member of the Jackson five when you hear the name Michael Jackson. It’s tough to share the same name as one of the most iconic and revered musical artists in history. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Michael B. Jordan before he became a household name, being in the shadow of the hardwood legend? That said, being compared to the King of Pop has not had a negative impact on Hurricanes’ cornerback Michael Jackson’s play.
The Birmingham, Alabama, native was a question mark before the 2017 season, having not earned playing time on the defense aside from snaps on special teams. However, this Jackson established himself by being named a second team All-ACC member after putting together a 43 tackle, three tackles-for-loss, one sack, four interception and five pass break-ups as a junior last season. After the Hurricanes lost Malek Young, who was arguably the team’s best defender against the pass, Jackson assumed the role as top corner on the roster.
Listed at 6’1” and 200 pounds, Jackson has the length that evaluators at the next level covet in a cornerback who lines up on the outside of the defensive formation. Jackson provides the ideal blend of speed, man coverage and instincts to be considered among the best at his position at the college level. According to Pro Football Focus, opponents had a paltry 36.1 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction in 2017. It’s part of the reason why there was serious interest from the NFL, forcing Jackson to give consideration as to whether he wanted to take the leap and jump into the pros a year early. He sought advice from teammates, crediting fellow DBs Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine as the key recruiters trying to sway him to return for his senior year. Their efforts did not go in vain, with No. 28 returning to the fold for the 2018 season.
So what is there left to conquer for the cornerback coming off a remarkable junior season?
Well, first of all, Jackson became a father for the first time over the spring. Getting accustomed to the balancing act of dad duties may rank up there with trailing a receiver down the field. Given his length and agility, Jackson should have his newborn shutdown on underneath and downfield routes. Getting back to the field, despite the success of last season, some question whether the performance was an aberration or Jackson truly enjoying a breakout season after a couple years in the system. ’Canes fans should be shouting that it’s the latter. So, in his final season at UM, Jackson has control over the narrative of how his collegiate career ultimately played out.
What is certain is that Jackson is regarded as the premier cover corner on Miami’s roster. He’s also one of the most tenured players at the position, having been in the defensive back meeting room for four seasons. He gleaned visual reps from past corners such as Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert, along with other defensive backs such as Rayshawn Jenkins, Jamal Carter and UM’s current starting safety tandem, Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine. Jackson has an impressive support system to lean on.
What is different this season is that Jackson will now be counted on to impart as much wisdom as he consumes. The ’Canes have a young defensive back room that is made of freshmen and upperclassmen who have not received much playing time yet in their early careers, similar to Jackson himself. The defensive back coach can teach these players in the meeting room and on the practice field, but there are going to be moments where he simply does not have the time to stop and have a teaching moment with those guys. It’s part of the reason why, this spring, the call for leadership from the coaching staff was so important.
Of course, during this part of the year, it’s about competing and fending off challengers for your job. The entire team needs to be on the same page if UM is going to have any sort of success in the upcoming season. Miami supporters have witnessed the best of this, as the Turnover Chain became a prominent fixture in households across the nation. There has also been moments where members of the defensive secondary do not appear to be speaking the same language, resulting in big gains down field as shrugs and frustration pour over to the sideline.
Most of that is not solely the responsibility of Jackson—but as a leader not only at his position, but among the defense, he needs to be part of the solution keeping his position mates on the same page.
There’s no doubt that Jackson can establish himself as one of the top corners by next spring. He should be a candidate to hear his name called in the first round. With the exception of both safeties, no one player’s production will be more indicative of the success or failure of the defense than Michael Jackson this season. The King of Pop may be dead, but Michael Jackson (the player) is just coming into his own both as football player and man.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!