Sports

Jackson ready to make new memories in NFL

It’s a memory Hezekiah Jackson will always have, and it’s one that he’ll only grow more fond of as time goes on.

As the athletics facilities supervisor for Bibb County schools, he was always on hand when son Kareem suited up at Westside in the offensive backfield.

“I would stand in the other end zone,” Hezekiah Jackson said. “I said, ‘Man, just run to me. You can dip and dodge, break tackles and just run to me.’ So when he ran through the end zone, we would always high-five.”

After all those touchdowns as a running back at Westside, Hezekiah Jackson is now the father of an NFL defender. There will still be high-fives, just not in the end zone during a game.

Kareem Jackson was ready to be picked Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft, but just not by Houston. The Texans had never contacted him or his agent until moments before ESPN told the world about the choice.

Jackson said before the draft had started that a few new teams — Seattle, Baltimore, Washington and Atlanta — had been in contact with him or his agent to make sure they had his phone numbers.

Then, naturally, he was picked by a team he’d had no contact with but one that made adjustments as the draft progressed.

“When things started to shake out, some things happened that we didn’t foresee,” Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush told Houston area reporters. “Then we had an opportunity to go back in and discuss the defensive players, and this was a guy we really wanted.

“We were looking at running back, but we also needed a corner, and we felt like (Jackson) was a player we had to get.”

Houston also strongly considered Devin McCourty of Rutgers and Kyle Wilson of Boise State.

“Both those kids are very talented players, and we really liked a lot of things that they did,” Bush told reporters. “When you look at the total package and what Kareem brings to our team, you see a guy that’s tough, aggressive and very smart.

“He’s a junior coming out early, and so there’s a tremendous upside. We like the fact he played on a national championship team. We like winners in the building.”

Jackson hasn’t been on a losing team since he started playing in high school, and has an Alabama national championship ring as well as the tutoring of head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

Jackson is the second Maconite to go in the first round this decade.

George Foster, an offensive tackle at Southeast and Georgia, was also picked 20th, by Denver in the 2003 draft.

Jim Parker, a member of the College Football, NFL and Georgia Sports halls of fame, was born in Macon and moved to Ohio after his junior year at Ballard-Hudson. The Baltimore Colts picked the Ohio State star as the eighth player overall in 1957.

Julius Adams, who turns 63 on Monday, went from Ballard-Hudson to Texas Southern and was selected by New England in the second round, 27th overall, in 1971.

Craig Hertwig graduated from Mark Smith and went to Georgia before Detroit made him the 94th pick overall (fourth round) in 1975.

In recent years from Bibb County, Tattnall Square and Georgia Tech punter Durant Brooks was a sixth-round choice, 168th overall, in 2008 by Washington. LeKevin Smith, a Stratford graduate who started 35 games at Nebraska, went to New England in 2006 as the 206th overall pick, in the sixth round.

Central’s Tony Gilbert was taken out of Georgia in 2003’s sixth round by Arizona and Northeast’s Corey Williams (Arkansas State) went to Green Bay in the sixth round in 2004.

Jackson did a pretty good job relaxing before all the activity started at home.

“The phone? Been crazy. By far the worst (day),” Jackson said. “I did a little shopping to get my mind off everything. That’s my thing, shopping.”

He wore a new bright blue Kansas City Royals baseball cap.

“Just like the blue,” he said. “Matches the shoes.”

He’ll be doing more shopping soon enough. The No. 20 pick in 2008, cornerback Aqib Talib, signed a five-year, $14 million contract with $8.2 million guaranteed from Tampa Bay. A year ago, tight end Brandon Pettigrew signed with Detroit for six years and $14.6 million with $9.4 guaranteed.

Draft-day mock predictions were no more precise than any earlier ones. Jackson was still a likely first-round pick, but he didn’t pay attention to any of that the past few months.

“Lately, I haven’t been watched SportsCenter, ESPN, the (NFL) Network, none of that,” he said. “None of it.”

One reason is the spectrum of opinions. The “Off the Record” blog went back and forth on Jackson: “On paper, Jackson is the best CB in the draft. On the field, he’s probably a late first-round, early second-round draft pick. He has the instincts of an owl, but has yet to use them in a game.”

Yet ESPN’s Mel Kiper continued to rate Jackson as the No. 2 cornerback in the draft and Todd McShay of ESPN called Jackson the most underrated player in the draft.

The New York Times had this to say in capsule of first-round prospects: “Cerebral player with skills to hang with speedy WRs. Confident and aggressive, gets to the ball. Some issues with durability and occasional overaggressiveness. Might fit nicely in a cover-2.”

A number of scouting reports noted that cerebral mentality and reported that Jackson was big on watching film.

“I used to fool around with it in high school just look at the opposition,” Jackson said. “I didn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on then because it’s high school, everybody out there wasn’t on the same level as you were talent-wise.

“Once I got in college, I knew you had to have some kind of upper hand going into the game, and it was going to be in the film room.”

He was a consensus top-five cornerback going in and was the second one taken.

The NFL’s draft advisory committee projected Jackson as a second-rounder, until he ran a 4.48/40 in the NFL Combine and climbed into the first round for many teams. He was happy, but not terribly surprised.

“I’m pretty confident,” the 5-foot-1, 196-pounder said. “That’s one of the things. You’ve got to have that confidence when you’re out there on that island.”

He’ll carry that confidence to the NFL, confidence he displayed to Houston media in a conference call Thursday night as he leaned on a black Ford SUV next to his home.

“I’m going to be real feisty out there on that corner,” said Jackson, who spent Friday in Houston. “I’m going to be real physical, so receivers are going to know I’m there. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make plays out there.”

The Reviews

Thoughts on Kareem Jackson for this year’s draft:

ESPN.com

“Jackson may be the best pure cover corner in this year’s draft. Jackson has tremendous feet, balance, anticipation and route-recognition skills when out on an island. He should be able to make a smooth transition to the NFL level coming out of a Nick Saban-coached defense. ... The Texans desperately needed a shutdown corner, so this pick is no surprise. Glover Quinn stepped up solidly as a rookie last season and Jacques Reeves will continue to play, but Jackson could give the Texans the ability to take away half the field.”

Lenn Robbins, New York Post

“Javier Arenas got most of the attention because of his speed; Jackson just covered guys.”

Richard Justice, Houston Chronicle

“As bad days go, it was a pretty good one for the Texans. Never mind that it didn’t play out the way they hoped.

“In the end, they added a tough, smart, polished football player at a position where they need help. In other words, they got better on Thursday. Kareem Jackson will be penciled into the starting lineup at cornerback opposite Glover Quin the moment he steps onto the practice field at Reliant Park. ... The Texans liked the fact that Jackson had been an impact player in a big-time program. He started all but one game in three seasons at Alabama. And the Texans focused on the fact that he’d succeeded in Nick Saban’s NFL-type system, that he’d won big in the nation’s best conference and that he’d already succeeded against some of the same receivers he’ll see in the NFL.”

Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com

“This is a need pick. Jackson is a speedy cover corner who has played a lot of NFL-style defense at Alabama. The Texans have a big hole at corner, so it makes sense. (Grade: B).

Mike Mayock, NFL Network

“This makes sense. Kareem Jackson’s one of the most technique sound guys in this draft. He’s very physical, technically sound, a fast-rising junior. He played extremely well. You know if you’re a defensive back coming out of Nick Saban’s system, you’re technically proficient. And I’ll tell you what, this kid’ll tackle you.”

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