Tennessee Stat Book
First it was a change of school, then it was a new position.
Now Malik Jackson might truly be settling in at both.
The former Southern California end turned Tennessee edge rusher turned defensive tackle hasn't had his career pan out exactly how he might have envisioned so far, but just a couple weeks into his latest move, the junior has looked quite comfortable in his new digs. And heading to No. 17 South Carolina on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.), Jackson is building on perhaps the best all-around game he's played anywhere.
"It's going pretty good," Jackson said. "I never thought I'd like three-technique as much as I do. It's a fun position. It's pretty hard and gritty, especially with the double-teams, but other than that it's a good position.
"I feel like (defensive line) Coach Chuck (Smith) has all four of his best defensive linemen on the field at one time, so it's pretty good. It is harder though - inside it's like working in a phone booth."
Jackson hasn't exactly left the booth as Superman, but he has become perhaps the steadiest contributor up front for UT (2-5, 0-4 SEC) and certainly made a significant impact against Alabama last weekend.
He set a career high with six tackles, one of which went for a loss, and Jackson also brought a pair of drives to an end with plays on Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy - first pressuring him into an incompletion and then batting a ball down before halftime to force a field goal.
"He's playing better, he really is," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "You know, he's a little light for being in there (at tackle). What is he, 265 (pounds)? If he was about 305 he'd really be playing well. But he's helping the team, he's been the most consistent up front the last few weeks.
"It's exactly what I envisioned, that's why we brought him here. We knew we had a lot of concerns up front, and that's why we were searching. He was a good answer for us. Of course, he wasn't the answer for us, but he's a good answer. I'm glad he's here."
Jackson easily could still be with the Trojans instead, though he took advantage of their probation and a rare penalty that allowed players to transfer without sitting out a season to make his first big switch this summer.
That move hasn't paid off in many wins yet for Jackson, but his other change of scenery certainly looks like it could be part of the solution against the Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 SEC).
Dealing with more double-teams at tackle might make it a bit more difficult for him to finally break through for his first sack with the Vols, a team that desperately needs more pressure from the front four to improve a league-worst sack total of eight.
But even with his hands full in the phone booth, Jackson was still closing to getting one - and collectively UT might not be all that far off when Jackson's keeping a couple blockers busy.
"It's still a work in progress," Jackson said. "That's all we can do is just keep working, man. It's going to go our way. We're still a young team, we're just going to have to keep listening to Chuck and keep working, that's all we can really do.
"Just a few more seconds and we'll get there, but it is what it is. We've got to do better, just like everybody else has to do better on defense. It's just a group effort right now, and we have to work hard."