Malik Jackson steps up

When the trainers were out working on Derek Wolfe’s injury during the Seattle game, I found myself thinking, “Thank heavens Malik Jackson has been stepping up.” Jackson may not be at Wolfe’s level yet, but reports out of training camp have mentioned Jackson’s work almost daily. Wolfe’s need to recover fully before the opener will mean even more reps for Malik.

Jack Del Rio believes in the importance of a front seven that attacks the offense constantly; he believes in it for defending the pass as well as the run. He recently commented:

Everywhere I’ve been, if you go back to Baltimore and Carolina and Jacksonville, it starts up front on defense. We’ve been fortunate to acquire and develop good players and put together a good front. I feel confident we’ll be able to do that here. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re busy doing that now in terms of developing guys we have. We’ve added a couple guys obviously in the draft and a free agent here or there. We’re going to make it competitive. We’re going to push that group. We’re going to expect the front to really help us play great defense.

In his Gut Reaction to Jackson’s selection last year, TJ generally hit the nail on the head:

Pros:

  • Athletic with good agility
  • Versatile; can play both 3-tech and 5-tech
  • Will find a way to the quarterback
  • Good straight-line speed to pursue scramblers

Cons:

  • Will be limited to passing downs
  • Below average against the run
  • Raw technique
  • Lacks bulk
  • Hesitates on occasion

Early on, expect Jackson to be used in multiple fronts on passing downs.  Don't be surprised if you see him on the edge as much as he plays on the inside.  Long term, he's got the sort of athleticism you like in raw prospects.  But he'll need to improve drastically against the run if he wants more.  Still, more than a few NFL careers have been built on third down.

Jackson had limited snaps last season, and as TJ expected, they were usually on passing downs. He did play both the 3- and 5-tech positions - the DE on the edge, and the DT on the inside - which was also as expected. His athleticism looked fair, but the potential was obviously there. This year, with the loss of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller’s suspension, Jackson is being asked to do more.

His weight is up to 293 lb from 286 lb. at combine: Luke Richesson & Co. have made sure that it’s muscle weight that’s increasing his bulk. He’s improving against the run, becoming more consistent, and showing the potential that you could see from his highlights at Tennessee:

Jackson started his college career with two seasons at USC, but he transferred to Tennessee for his junior season in search of more playing time. He started out at defensive end as a junior, then finished his career with 19 games at defensive tackle, starting 24 of 25 games over that time. As a junior, he earned second-team All-SEC honors, followed the next year by earning first team All-SEC honors for his senior performance.

The raw technique that he brought to the Broncos has begun to develop some polish, standing up to the run as well as rushing the passer. He had positive grades in the run game in both preseason games, at San Francisco and Seattle.

With the Broncos concerned with creating and maintaining pressure on the quarterback, especially in light of Miller’s six-game suspension and the loss of Dumervil, Jackson’s skills in attacking off the edge may become more important than his ability to roll inside to DT, although both will help the Broncos.

Jackson was the second player that Del Rio mentioned as stepping up in the preseason opener at San Francisco - Duke Ihenacho, as he’s often been of late, was the first. Jackson is earning some scrutiny for himself through his efforts as well as his improved technique.

The visible strides in Jackson’s movement skills since his early work last year serves as a good reminder that our remembrance of a player from the year before is often a poor indication of what they’re going to show us this year. Jackson’s been showing a lot of improvement - and Denver’s going to need to see it continue this coming season.

I’ve seen enough improvement already to look forward to what he can contribute in 2013.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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