Sometimes you can tell a lot about a defensive prospect just by how his coordinator plays him. If he is a linebacker he could play on the first two downs, then be replaced in passing situations. The same thing goes for a down lineman. He might be replaced with a pass rush specialist. In the secondary there are nickel backs and dime backs who only play in passing situations.
If that coordinator plays you all game as a single high safety or a corner left out on an island; that means he has supreme confidence in you. In these positions there is no margin for error. One slip up can cost you a quick six points. Dane Jackson has been on an island for his coordinator Randy Bates since he got to Pitt. Jackson has actually been trusted since he started playing in high school.
Dane Jackson was a prolific quarterback in high school at Quaker Valley High. His head coach John Tortorea couldn’t find enough good things to say about Jackson. “I grew up in the Bloomfield area of Pittsburgh with a lot of old Italians. It’s a complement that older people would understand but it’s the highest compliment you can give someone. Dane Jackson is a true gentleman,” stated Tortorea. “It’s an old world, old fashion term, but you couldn’t ask for a better gentleman.”
Tortorea continued, “When it comes to being a teammate, a classmate, a friend or a son, Dane is a first class individual. He’s humble and quiet. Sometimes I think he’s too quiet. He leads by example. His teammates look up to him. He’s the type of kid that cleans the gym without me asking him. There’s never anything too big or too small for him. Whatever he can do to improve someone’s quality of life, he’ll do it. Like I said, he’s a true gentleman. His mother has done a great job bringing him up.”
Dane was the dual threat quarterback for Quaker Valley, rushing for 1,110 yards with 10 TDs. He threw for 975 yards and 13 TDs.
“I have coached for over 20 years and Dane is the most dynamic kid I have ever seen with the ball in his hands, I’m aware a lot of coaches say things like that. I meant it. Dane has a tremendous amount of natural ability. Some kids are raw athletes, Dane is polished. He has a tremendously high football IQ,” Tortorea added.
Dane had numerous scholarship offers from the MAC to play quarterback, but he had a desire to stay near home. Paul Chryst (head coach at Pitt) along with some of his staff worked out Dane on more than one occasion. They decided that the optimal position for Dane at the next level was cornerback. They eventually offered him a scholarship. Dane would start his transition by playing both positions (QB & CB) his senior year in high school.
Coach Tortorea was more than happy to oblige, “Dane can play any position you throw at him and he’s ‘team first’. If you asked him today to play defensive tackle at Pitt, he would start packing on weight. He can adapt to anything you throw at him.”
“He’s going to be a great cornerback for Pitt. Dane’s going to play cornerback for us as well,” he said. “We plan on playing a lot of man coverage due to his athleticism. He won’t have a hard time switching to a full time cornerback for Pitt. He’s very bright and a quick learner.”
“We essentially play the same defense as Pitt. Their system is probably a bit more complex. It shouldn’t be too big a transition for Dane. He’s only going to get better with more reps at the position.”
At 6’ 0” 190 lbs Dane has the size teams like at the corner position. Dane is also a lot more physical than most corners as his 149 career tackles (113 solo) can attest. These are not just tackles made after a player Dane is covering catches a pass on him. Most are for coming up against the run. In fact, PFF has Jackson rated with a grade of 89.8 against the run, one of the highest marks for defensive backs.
Dane Jackson usually plays on an island in man coverage on most plays. In most coverages he is on the right side of the defense, but he is not exclusively held to the right side. Here he is in zone coverage (trust me) which Pitt ran only about 15 to 20% of the time. He is on the far right but reads the play on a pass over the middle to the tight end.
Jackson comes in with a hard hit just as the tight end turns to run after catching the pass. The hard lick stops the runner in his tracks, and Jackson wrenches the ball out at the same time. This is the trifecta, a tackle, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. It’s a game changing play. He made a lot of them while at Pitt.
This next GIF is just a heads up play by Jackson in zone coverage. This is a 3rd and 5 play with two receivers outside and only Jackson in coverage near the line of scrimmage. There is a safety deep so it looks like an easy first down for the offense. The problem is this is a college trap defense where the look is a total blitz. This makes the QB get the ball out quickly.
The middle linebacker drops back into coverage to his right which takes away the slot receiver’s stop pattern. With the blitz coming from the outside unblocked, the QB is in a world of hurt. He has no time to check the opposite side of the field so he throws to his outside receiver (who is also checking up for a stop route).
This is a fairly easy read for Jackson. He must hesitate in case of a double move by the receiver, but once the receiver slows his feet and turns his body, he has given away his intentions. Jackson with his eyes half on the receiver and half on the QB sees the play in front of him. He steps in front of the pass for an easy pick six.
This next play is a pseudo-trap play. The defense is showing a hard press coverage on the outside with a standard 7 man box. As the play progresses, the defense actually blitzes two linebackers and drops the secondary into a zone. The QB can’t wait to go through a play fake and get the ball outside to the slot receiver who is feigning a route and dropping off into the flat.
In reality everything goes as planned for both the offense and the defense. The defense has forced a quick throw to the outside, and the offense has set up their best open field player, a GGN favorite in Greg Dortch, who is lethal in the open field. With the outside receiver blocking the slot defender, all the defense needs is for Dortch to make one man miss, and he is off to the races. Unfortunately for him Jackson is the man to beat, and he has read the play. He is on Dortch as soon as he spins out form the catch. Jackson is a solid tackler, and instead of going for a big hit he makes the smart play. He takes out both legs for a sure tackle and a two yard loss.
The thing about football players is that they remember things. This is later in the game, and Wake Forest tries the exact same play. Dortch remembers how fast Jackson was in on the play so he wants to get the ball and go as quickly as possible.
The defense has a good memory also. They have seen this before. This time the throw is high which makes Dortch reach for the ball, leaving him unable to protect himself. The throw sails off Dortch’s fingertips. He quickly receives a shoulder pad to the chest. Needless to say, this was the last time the offense ran this play in this game.
Later in the same game Wake for some reason is still trying to go after Jackson even though they haven’t completed a pass in his direction all day past the line of scrimmage. Jackson had 4 passes defended in this game, a single game high for him. When asked about his coverage Jackson replied, “I think it’s just me being aggressive. If that ball is in the air or wherever it may be, if I see that ball, I want the ball.”
It’s not easy to see, but basically the receiver is running a 10 yard curl. He tries to get Jackson to flip his hips by coming of the line like he is running a “9” route. Then he will come back for the reception. Jackson starts out by running with the receiver. When he stops Jackson is able to react quickly. He is able to break up the pass diving into the passing lane. Jackson has enough speed to stay with this receiver. This play might have worked if the receiver had gotten in front of Jackson then was able to come back for the ball. That didn’t happen. Jackson works hard on his technique.
This next play the receiver is out wide. He tries to cross the face of Jackson, but Jackson is able to undercut the route. He almost makes a spectacular interception.
He is visibly upset that he couldn’t haul in the interception not knowing his good work led to his safety catching the deflection then taking it in for the score. Jackson was not in the discussion of top corners in college to start the year. This was mainly because he didn’t have an INT in 2018, even though he did things like this. That is why he continues to work on technique. “I know that stuff will come if I’m in the right position,” Jackson said.
In this next GIF Jackson is playing in a zone. He plays this very well. At the snap there is no one to cover on his side. Instead of chasing the play leaving the backside undefended, he holds his ground and lets the play develop.
He holds his position even as the play looks like a reverse. It almost looks like he sensed a pass (maybe from film study). In any event while others pursue the runner, Jackson drops back into the passing lane. You can see the safety race towards the ball carrier as Jackson is dropping back. This is an easy pick because Jackson used his head What did his high school coach say?
He has a tremendously high football IQ.
From a view higher above you can see the entire play better. This is a reverse pass by the flanker with only one receiver out for the pass.
I like a player who can read a play, formulate a plan, and make the right decision while the play unfolds in front of him. He even stayed back long enough to ensure the tight end didn’t leak out into the flat as a safety valve. He waited for him to get involved with a block until he drifted back on the lone receiver who was already well covered.
Even though many of the Draft sites weren’t giving much love to Jackson at the start of the year, Mike Tannenbaum the former Jets GM and ESPN analyst was calling Jackson an impact corner in July of 2019.
Tannenbaum called Jackson an “impact corner,” the quote actually made it all the way to Pittsburgh. When Jackson heard the quote he was asked how, if at all it affected him.
“When I hear that stuff, I don’t get complacent with anything, it just makes me go harder every day,” Jackson said.
This last play is an example of how well Jackson has grown since he first came to Pitt and also a reminder he has some work to do to improve. On the play the QB drops back to pass and is flushed out of the pocket. Once he gets outside he is free of pressure and has all day to throw while receivers scramble to get open.
This play takes about 5 seconds, which is an eternity for DB’s to cover their men. Jackson’s man is originally going out to his left, away from the direction his QB is fleeing. He then doubles back with Jackson following. When the throw is made Jackson has the chance to undercut the route and go for an interception. Jackson breaks up the play but he could have had more.
You can see better from another view exactly what I mean.
Jackson does all that good work, but lets the ball go right through his hands. I’m sure he put in extra work on the JUGS machine that week.
Jackson appreciates everything he has received from his coaches, remember he had to redshirt his first year. He was basically learning a new position from high school. “No one wants to redshirt, but redshirting was probably the best thing for me,” he said. “It put me in position to do something great for myself, do something great for my teammates, and be the leader I’ve always wanted to be.”
Jackson also remembers how it felt after all that work without playing for the year. “Stepping on the field that first time my redshirt freshman year, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m really here, this is it. This is everything I’ve dreamed of since back in the day when I was playing peewee football.’ That’s one of the moments I’ll never forget” he said.
It took some time to believe he could play the position, play it well. “In the middle of my redshirt sophomore year, that was my first year of really starting, and it allowed me to slow the game down,” he said. “I had those guys in front of me that taught me a lot, and I was able to look up to guidance and schemes or technique or whatever it might be.”
Now Jackson is headed to the NFL, but many in the Draft community are split on where he should be drafted. Pro Football Network draft analyst Nick Farabaugh says that Jackson “has been the definition of ‘lockdown.’” Jim Nagy the director of the Senior Bowl said he, “got another look at Dane Jackson the other night and he locked it down.”
Draft expert Tony Pauline though calls Jackson’s long speed “worrisome” and gave Jackson a 5th round grade.
All I do is go by the tape I watch. I saw two TDs that went to the man Jackson was originally covering. He broke off coverage to cover a player in a short zone. I think the safety was supposed to cover that man, but it was a bust in coverage. I never saw a player just fly by Jackson while he was in man coverage with him.
When Paul Chryst (Pitt head coach) worked out Jackson as a high school junior back in 2014 he ran a 4.46/40 which is enough speed to play the outside in the NFL. Of course we have the Combine ahead plus the Senior Bowl which will solve a lot of questions.
Jackson is currently rated in my top 75 players in the Draft, and I don’t see him falling much from there. He could go up significantly if he shows well here in the lead up to the Draft. I think Jackson is a solid kid with great character, great against the run, and a very football savvy player. If he was to run in the low 4.4s I would even consider him a great prospect to play a single high safety position as well as a cover corner. Just imagine a player who can cover sideline to sideline in the safety position to help in coverage with Jamal Adams near the line of scrimmage to wreak havoc.
He could also play as a cover corner, something the Jets need desperately and I believe he would do quite well.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?