S Dexter Jackson saw mostly special teams action as a rookie but may be earning more playing time in 2000
Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?
In 1999, the Buccaneers drafted Florida State safety Dexter Jackson in the fourth round, though they felt solid at both starting safety positions. With the dramatic impact made by the team's first three picks – DT Anthony McFarland, QB Shaun King and K Martin Gramatica – a promising, low-profile rookie season by Jackson passed rather quietly.
Then, during the 2000 offseason, Jackson's profile started to rise a bit, first by virtue of a coaching experiment to try Jackson at cornerback and second by the good words the staff started spreading about the second-year player.
Suddenly, Jackson was considered a viable backup option at both safety spots, plus an 'emergency' cornerback. Even though he is not expected to unseat either free safety Damien Robinson or strong safety John Lynch, it is thought that he could bring a new dimension to the defense when he gets his chance. That is, he considered a potential 'big-play' type of defender by his coaches.
So, lo and behold, Robinson pulls a hamstring on the first day of training camp (July 24) and suddenly Jackson is a starting safety for most of August. And, wouldn't you know it, in his first game in that role, Jackson makes two game-turning plays.
"Dexter has the ability to make plays...that's what you see about him," said his position coach, Herman Edwards, weeks before training camp. "He flashes. He'll make a play all of a sudden. If he can do that, that helps us on defense tremendously."
Good plan, Herm. Good execution, Jackson.
On Friday night, in the Buccaneers' preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, Jackson ran out with the starting defense and was actually the last player introduced to the home crowd, thanks to his position. In the second quarter, he was one of the first Tampa Bay defenders to introduce himself to Washington quarterback Jeff George, picking off George's second pass of the game to set up a Buccaneer field goal try.
Later in the quarter, as the clock was tossing away the final seconds of the first half and George had the Redskins deep in Buccaneer territory, Jackson got him again, snaring an intended touchdown pass in the end zone to preserve the Bucs' 7-3 lead.
"I just read the quarterback's eyes on both interceptions," said Jackson. "It helped me that I played corner a lot in the spring. It is unfortunate that Damien had an injury, but all the running and hard work this summer paid off tonight. It was only one night, though, and I would like to put that together week in and week out. I am just happy they felt confident putting me back there."
Perhaps just as importantly, Jackson helped the first-team defense stymie the Redskins' vaunted first-team offense, as Washington was held to 45 yards and two first downs in the opening quarter. Starting QB Brad Johnson completed four of seven passes in that period, but none for more than seven yards (actually, each of the four completions was exactly seven yards, strangely enough).
"I think the first-team defense did a good job," said Head Coach Tony Dungy after the game ended with the Bucs up 13-12. "They didn't create any turnovers but our second-team defense, with Dexter Jackson making two big plays, came through for us. I like what I saw, especially when we can create opportunities by forcing turnovers."
Training camp injuries are a fact of life, and the Buccaneers have actually been fairly fortunate so far with overall roster health. What delights coaches is when those injuries lead to another player's emergence. It's even better when that emergence is almost exactly what you had predicted during the calmer months of spring.
On Friday night, Jackson was suddenly one of the most prominent members of what is shaping up to be an impactful 1999 draft class. King was magnificent, completing 10 of 11 passes and keeping the Bucs' offense on the move for most of the first half. McFarland was disruptive, as usual, but not necessarily singled out in a defensive line group that was unstoppable as a whole. Gramatica had an uncharacteristically rough night, missing two field goal tries, but fifth-round DE John McLaughlin turned in the sack that ended Washington's last-ditch effort.
Even if Jackson's newfound opportunity for action has made him more visible in that class, he is approaching his second training camp in a blue-collar manner. "I practiced really hard this week and that's what I expect out of myself week in and week out," he said."
That's a promise the Bucs' think Jackson can keep.