Janzen Jackson is enrolled in school and back on the Tennessee football team. But fans should hold their applause.
In school and on the team don’t equate to in the lineup and on the field. Being back doesn’t mean back for good.
Jackson’s track record is too checkered for that.
You know the history. As a freshman, he was suspended for a game by then-coach Lane Kiffin and later sat out three more games before he was cleared of any wrongdoing in an alleged armed-robbery attempt at a local convenience store.
Last year, he was excused for more than a week of bowl practice to deal with a personal problem, supposedly the same problem that caused him to drop out of school for the spring semester.
The problem was serious enough that his status was uncertain for the fall. As UT coach Derek Dooley said two months ago when asked about the possibility of Jackson’s return, “Every decision I’ve made (relative to the secondary) has been with the idea Janzen won’t be back.”
Now that UT’s junior safety has returned, the secondary has enough depth and experience to qualify as the strongest sector of a defense that looks anything but sturdy. That alone doesn’t mean Dooley made the right decision in keeping Jackson on the team.
It depends on what happens next. It depends on someone who thus far has proved himself undependable.
Jackson has to deliver more than highlight hits. He has to perform with more consistency on the field and stay out of trouble off it. If he’s looking for motivation, his coach is a good place to start.
Dooley has gone to great lengths to help Jackson, which speaks as much to the player’s ability as the coach’s compassion.
But the extra effort isn’t without risk for a coach who professes to build a program on such virtues as discipline and character.
The least Jackson can do is keep that in mind. He owes his coach and school for giving him another chance.
That’s not to minimize Jackson’s “problem,” which Dooley believes is significant. Thanks to Dooley and the university, Jackson has gotten help. My guess is he will continue to get help.
He has more going for him than a support system. He has talent, which has been apparent in flashes in two seasons with the Vols.
Former UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin compared Jackson favorably with UT All-American Eric Berry, who had a standout rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. Although that hyperbole might qualify as wishful thinking, it also said something about Jackson’s potential.
Berry’s potential quickly turned into production, and not just because of his physical gifts. Even in a brief preseason interview, you could tell he was far more mature than most freshmen. His maturity was evident on the field as well.
Berry prepared for a game and critiqued himself the way NFL players do. He took as much pride in reading a route or diagnosing a play as he did in a SportsCenter-worthy tackle.
Jackson is nowhere close to Berry at this juncture (how many college defensive backs are?). Yet he’s capable of being one of the best players on a UT team that needs all the defensive help it can get. And a pro career isn’t out of the question. But first, he has to make it at UT.
He has a support system. He has had more than a second chance.
The rest is up to him.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.