“Eddie Jackson. Eddie JACKSON! One man to beat and he beat him… It’s an 85-yard return!”
That was the call Verne Lundquist made during the CBS broadcast of Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson’s first career punt return. He broke out the touchdown return against Ole Miss to cut the Rebels’ lead down to a single touchdown, bringing Alabama one step closer to its 48-43 victory in Oxford, Mississippi, nearly three weeks ago.
This is Jackson’s first season as punt returner for the Crimson Tide, since Cyrus Jones left for the NFL, and he has already shown off his explosiveness. Of the team’s 253 punt return yards, the senior is responsible for 112 on just three returns.
Back in high school, Jackson mainly played as a wide receiver. Therefore, whenever he gets his hands on the ball now, he goes back into that offensive mindset.
“All the things from high school just come back in play,” Jackson said. “I just see things and try to make plays.”
Being a punt returner is all about having the instincts to know what to do with the ball in every situation, and Alabama coach Nick Saban believes Jackson is more than capable of making those decisions on the go. He knows what cuts, but also how to set up and use his blockers, to create paths down the field. He makes the right decisions.
“Eddie’s always shown great judgment to get that part of it done,” Saban said. “The No. 1 thing on punt return is possession of the ball. If you can make a first down with the return that’s great, change field position, we want to make explosive plays on special teams.”
Instincts spark the decision to either signal for a fair catch or take the chance at a big return. The returner can’t debate his options, though. He has to act immediately.
“If you are going to return it, you are going to return it,” Jackson said. “But if you’re not, you better call a fair catch [or else] somebody knocks your head off. It’s fun when you make big plays.”
Once a player catches the punt, he must rely on his vision as much, if not more, than his instincts. The Crimson Tide makes sure to practice using its vision. Whenever someone intercepts a ball, the entire defense practices blocking, just as the offense would for a receiver. Jackson said the whole drill is designed for making reads and being able to make the plays in order to capitalize. It’s the same for special teams, too.
Even with all his instincts, though, the former three-star recruit still has to deal with some inexperience, especially as a punt returner, since he only played high school football for a year. Saban said the team has had too many balls that weren’t fielded, and Jackson knows it.
“This past weekend [against Kentucky], I misjudged the ball a couple of times,” Jackson said. “I just got to be more aggressive attacking the ball and just giving us good field position if I can’t return it, fair catch it, and not let the ball bounce behind me. Those are one of the things [Saban] kept talking about.”
Jackson is getting there, though. He’s learning from Saban and working toward improvement.
The Lauderdale Lakes, Florida product was discovered by former Alabama coach Jeff Stoutland, who would call Jackson “the diamond in the rough”. It’s a phrase that still inspires Jackson today.
“I’ve been an underdog my entire life,” Jackson said. “People doubt. Just prove them wrong. That’s one thing I can say I like to do.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports