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August 13, 2012

Career move

Junior defensive lineman Tim Jackson did not need a moving van to slide a few feet closer to the ball and into a new position along the defensive line of scrimmage.

What the move did require was a good attitude.

At 6 feet 5, Jackson played defensive end his first two seasons at UNC. He displayed excellent athletic ability and seemed to have a promising career ahead.

Jackson had seen teammates move into the National Football League after leaving Carolina following successful careers as defensive ends.

This is why he admits when the new coaching staff told him in the spring that they believed he would be a better fit at defensive tackle -- and the move would help the team -- Jackson had to overcome normal the sense of loss defensive ends often feel when they switch to tackle.

"I definitely had my doubts," Jackson said. "I was wondering if I could hold up down there. I also knew it was not as glorified a position, especially when I've seen Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples, Michael McAdoo, all those guys out there on end.

"Coming in initially, I thought I would be fulfilling their roles," Jackson said. "But this move to tackle is what the team needs. We definitely have a different scheme than what we had in the past. [The coaches] say my strengths fit more inside rather than outside."

Coach Larry Fedora said that he has been pleased with Jackson's progress so far.

"Tim is a guy who has grown into the inside," Fedora said. "He has been a guy who has been a defensive end who still has the explosiveness. He's gotten bigger. He really gives us some quality depth inside, and he is vying for a starting spot right now."

The coaches came to him early in spring practice, but at that time they told him to continue playing defensive end. Jackson saw rather quickly that his days as an end were numbered, nonetheless.

"I first found out about it midway through spring," Jackson said. "Throughout the off-season and summer, I was working on gaining 10 or 15 pounds. I've also been watching tape on inside guys."

Jackson played at or around 260 pounds last season. Now he's fluctuating between 270 and 275. With his frame, he's been able to add the muscle and not lose his quickness. Whatever he may not have in raw strength, he hopes to use his athleticism to overcome.

"Being faster than those guys is definitely an advantage," Jackson said. "But at the same time, speed isn't everything. You definitely have to be a man down there to take on those double teams.

"You have to be stronger at the point of attack," Jackson said. "You have to deal with a lot more double-teams. Things happen much more quickly because you're so close to the ball."

He is getting the full view during summer camp. Plenty of adjustments remain, but Jackson is a talented athlete who should be able to make the transition.

"This camp has definitely been a new experience for me," Jackson said. "It's been an adjustment period. The scheme is different, the way of playing technique, everything is totally different.

"Every day I'm learning more and more," Jackson said. "I try to work on the things I do wrong and make that my focus going into the next practice."

Coples, a former UNC defensive end who made the switch for a season while at Carolina, had to undergo some of the same adjustments Jackson now faces.

First off, they had to overcome their height (Jackson 6-5, Coples 6-6); learning to play lower is must for one to be successful.

"I'm constantly being told to get low, get my pads down," Jackson said. "It's just a habit to come off the ball and get up higher. I have to play with a lot more leverage to play down there."

Jackson solicited some advice from Coples since he has made the move.

"Coples is a phenomenal athlete," Jackson said. "He has strong hands. That definitely to his benefit, long arms. He was able to keep the offensive linemen off of him.

"I've talked to him about the transition," Jackson said. "Bottom line, he said you have to be a man down there and do whatever you can for the team."

Jackson's opportunities at sacks may be less, but there are other rewards.

"The reward is to see those linebackers running free," Jackson said, "making plays in the backfield. And if I get to the backfield, you know you did something right."



 

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