Tampa Bay used its fourth-round pick in April's NFL Draft to select Syracuse cornerback Tanard Jackson, who spent the offseason, training camp and preseason working on making the transition to safety.
Jackson has impressed in the few months he's been with the Buccaneers. In fact, he split reps with Will Allen in practice this week and likely will start at free safety against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Pewter Report contributing writer Charles Gonzalez talks to Jackson about making the transition from cornerback to safety, playing for head coach Jon Gruden and more in this PewterReport.com Conversation.
Now that you’ve had a chance to look back at your first NFL training camp, how was the experience for you? "Now that I can look back now that it’s over with I had a good experience for my first camp. I was able to come in here and learn quickly from older guys like Will Allen, Jermaine Phillips and that helped me a lot. I was able to pick up things quickly which will help you out on the field and allows you to play faster. So overall, my first training camp was a good experience."
Was there anything that shocked you in your first training camp that you weren’t ready for? "Yeah, certain things did. First of all, the size of the players in this league and then I would have to say the speed, the overall speed of teams in this league."
What was it about the speed that surprised you? "It’s definitely something you have to experience. As rookie, it could have been that I was just moving slow because I was thinking more, but either way, however you look at guys are faster in this league and you can’t really experience it until you are out there."
How hard has the transition from cornerback to safety been for you this season? "I think I had a smooth transition from corner to safety. The hardest thing with moving back there is the different run fits and the different reads that you have as a safety instead of at corner. As a corner, you are out there on an island usually one-on-one matchups. So coming on the outside in approach on run fits where as a safety you are coming downhill and you just have to read different keys as a safety. But I’m picking up on it pretty quick. It wasn’t a hard transition, it was much harder from safety to corner, but a player like me that’s confident in his abilities, who’s open to playing a new position if that will benefit him, I try to make it as easy as possible and I think I’m doing a good job with it."
Are there things you did at cornerback that you can use at safety? "Oh yes, definitely. Your instincts for the ball, and just reading three-step on the quarterback. As a corner, I felt my mentality for the ball was better than at safety. That’s how I always felt and now that I’m at the safety position I have kept that mentality."
You must be a physical player to play safety in the NFL and in the Bucs scheme. Do you feel that you can be physical? "That’s always something that has been a part of me [being physical]. Wanting to make tackles and wanting to hit somebody is a mentality and either you have it or you don’t, I don’t care what position you play. That’s always been my mentality, it’s a physical game and that’s the name of the game. You have to be physical if you want to be successful in this game especially at the safety position."
You showed some of your physical play against Jacksonville in the preseason. Take us through those three plays on the goal line, which helped your defense hold the Jaguars to a field goal. "It was kind of just that we knew what they were going to do on the goal line, red zone area and in certain formations. Actually it was just an opportunity where technique and opportunity just met and I was able to make a play. It just so happened that out of those four plays, three of them where called at me and it was just a matter of me making them. That’s what it’s all about in this league is production and making the plays when your number is called so that’s all I tried to do."
Was it frustrating to get injured in the Jacksonville game and be out for some time during training camp? "Yes definitely. Actually having the kind of camp I was having, I thought I was playing well, it always good have been better, but I was having a good camp and then to come out in the third quarter and to make the tackle on the kickoff and to get hurt, it was frustrating. But I was able to heal it which was a good thing in the preseason so I could be ready for the season."
Talk about defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 defense? "People think the Tampa 2 is a simple defense, but there is a lot to it and it’s Tampa Bay and everyone knows them for their cover 2 defense. It’s a privilege to be a part of this organization and to play under Monte Kiffin who is a great coach and he knows his stuff."
How difficult has it been to learn his Tampa 2 scheme? "It’s been difficult at times and of course it’s going to be different coming into a new scheme of things, but I definitely think I have picked up on it quickly. I’ve learned it – we ran similar defenses at Syracuse. Greg Robinson coached under Kiffin so it’s a similar defense, but different concepts. More stuff to know at a new position here, but overall I don’t think it was a problem picking it up quick."
What is it like working with defensive backs coach Raheem Morris? "He’s the type of coach that makes you want to come and work every day and make plays on Sundays. Of course you are going to go out there and make plays for yourself and your teammates, but he’s just a coach that has played the position. He knows the scheme, he knows what he’s talking about and at the same time he has fun and wants you to have fun. That is how we always are whether we are in the meeting room or out on the field, but at the same time we are going to learn. So to get all that from a coach, you can’t ask for more."
How has Morris helped your transition this year? "I’ve learned a lot from him ever since the week I worked with him at the Senior Bowl and it carried on when I got here. He knew a lot about me, he wanted me and after the Senior Bowl I knew I wanted to play for him and that it was a possibility so I’m glad I made it here."
So the Senior Bowl was big for you? "Yeah that was a good opportunity for me because they got to see me for a week. That was the first time that I was exposed to the safety position and they introduced me to the safety position.
Which player has been the most helpful because Will Allen also made the move from cornerback to safety coming out of college? Will has definitely been a guy that I could go to for help. Will probably knows the defense as well as anyone on this team and anytime I have a question or anything, he’s there to help me. The same with Flip [Phillip Buchanon] or the same with Kalvin Pearson, all the older guys that have been here have definitely been helpful. It’s funny you say that because I never knew that Will played corner, he never mentioned to me that he played cornerback at Ohio State. I have to ask him about that, but he definitely helped me."
How important is it to have a guy playing in the same position who has gone through the same transition? "It’s very helpful for me. Not too many guys make that change at a professional level. To make that change now and to get accustomed to it and try to play like other top safeties in the league, it’s tough. But you have a guy like Will [Allen] who has been through it and you got a guy like a Jermaine Phillips who has been around for a while and has experience in the league at the safety position and has had success, it’s very helpful for a rookie."
Talk about the excitement of seeing some action — and possibly starting — in the season opener against Seattle? "It’s a great opportunity for me, it’s a great opportunity to come out and get the confidence in veteran guys like [Jermaine] Phillips, like [Derrick] Brooks, like Ronde [Barber], [Brian] Kelly, [Greg] Spires. To be out there to play with those guys, guys that I watched when I was growing up play and to actually be on the same field with them in a big game like that, is a great opportunity and I’m very excited."
How good can this defense be? "The sky is the limit with this defense. You know the guys, you know the names, the big names that we have that are capable of making the plays at any given time in the game. I think we surrounded ourselves with some good free agents like Cato June, Jeremiah Trotter, Kevin Carter, guys like that. So now it’s up to the rookie class to keep building and to push those guys and make it even better with Gaines Adams the fourth pick. So I think the sky is the limit. The talent is there, we just have to execute."
What you've heard about linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is strictly reputation, but what can a physical player like that bring to this defense? "Actually, I watched Jeremiah Trotter play for a long time so I’ve heard and seen what he can do in the middle. He causes trouble and when teams want to run isolation plays he looks like he’s the fullback leading for the running back except he’s coming from the opposite end. It’s a great asset for our defense and I can’t wait to get out there and go play with him."
The team goal is to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, but what are some individual goals you would like to obtain along the way this season? "You know what, I haven’t thought about any individual goals right now. All I’m thinking about right now is making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. I feel like if we do that that our level of play from everybody has to be good, even great, to do that. So I feel that kind of comes with the territory, if we win and we are making plays in the secondary."
There are differing opinions about playing for head coach Jon Gruden. What are your thoughts about playing for the fiery coach? "He’s a stand up guy and the one thing I like about coach Gruden is you know what you are going to get. It’s not one day it’s this way and one day it’s that way. You know what you are going to get from him every day and if you hold up on your end of your job then he’s going to hold up on his end and that’s all you can ask for from a head coach. We don’t really work with him too much because defense is with the defense and offense is with the offense, but we do interact and you just know what you are going get from him. He’s a stand up guy."
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