LOS ANGELES — His fellow Trojans clown him, the chatter nonstop since Saturday, the opportunity just slipping through Domani Jackson’s fingertips after he’d gritted through a humbling year to nab it.
“He’s dropping money!” they’ve been teasing Jackson, he said, because the sophomore cornerback had the greatest chance of all of them in USC’s first game Saturday to secure a pick – the turnovers worth their weight in gold in coordinator Alex Grinch’s scheme. And Jackson has simply been taking it on the chin: the route he jumped, the third-quarter pass from San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro that simply ticked through his fingertips, the chance at the first interception of a young and turbulent Trojans career washed away.
But you ask him? You could say, he said Tuesday with jaw set and eyes firm, it’s a great read by him. Jumped off his man, who was running a streak route, to blow up another receiver’s out-route.
“It was just a great read,” Jackson repeated, “and I missed it. I’ll get it back, though.”
The confidence of a former five-star recruit, once one of the top defensive backs in the nation, is back. It came in fits and starts last year, as the Southern California News Group reported in April, gingerly working his way back from surgery on a knee he didn’t entirely trust. The staff tried to “force-feed” him reps to develop last year as a true freshman, head coach Lincoln Riley said last week, and probably not a single one of them came at complete health, as Grinch said Tuesday.
“I’m back,” Jackson said Tuesday, “to my old me.”
Well, not quite. True, yes, from a physical standpoint. But the nature of college football, and modern offenses, demand that young talent in the secondary – no matter their level of prestige – constantly adapt to a variety of coverages. The truth is, the old Jackson, despite obvious athleticism and tools in man-to-man situations, probably couldn’t have handled the start USC coaches with him Saturday.
“He’s had the time to be around some great guys in the corner room like Mekhi (Blackmon); he came around and dropped nuggets on all of us and gave us some good points to be a better player and be a better person off the field,” safety Jaylin Smith said on Tuesday. “I think Domani’s took those, the necessary steps to become a better person, and overall just seen growth.”
This growth, the growth toward Jackson becoming a lockdown corner USC needs to have any hope of stopping College Football Playoff offenses, is far from finished. Fans saw it on Saturday, when the most obvious defensive breakdown of a spotty defensive performance came at the end of the first half: Jackson blowing a zone coverage and Cordeiro firing a touchdown pass to a wide-open receiver to cut the Trojans’ lead to 21-14.
“That’s one of the situations, and I told Domani this – has he had enough reps of that, of the ball in the air coming at him?” Grinch said Tuesday. “And I gotta be honest with myself and say, ‘You know what, that’s probably not the situation to put him in.’”
Therein lies the quandary: more snaps for Jackson are necessary to unlock him, to capitalize on that ever-growing confidence, to ensure that if he jumps another route he “can’t drop any more,” as he said Tuesday. But will he earn those snaps, with mistakes that come with inexperience?
“I just gotta stay patient, trust my technique,” Jackson said. “That’s really it. Just lock in every single play, and just be me.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)