After the Carolina Panthers took cornerback Donte Jackson in the second round in the April draft, the former LSU sprinter was not shy about expressing confidence in both his coverage abilities and his speed.
Nothing about Jackson’s first three months as an NFL player has caused him to change his opinion of himself.
Standing at Wofford College’s Gibbs Stadium following his first training camp practice Thursday night, Jackson said the only things that have humbled him so far have been the menial tasks required of rookies — “nothing from the football standpoint.”
Jackson is a key figure in this camp.
He’s among several players competing for the starting spot opposite James Bradberry, one that opened after the Panthers traded Daryl Worley and saw free-agent target Bashaud Breeland fail his physical.
Jackson didn’t flinch when asked if he expects to be the starter Week 1 against Dallas.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I didn’t come out here for no other thing. That’s what it’s going to be. I’m going to compete until Week 1 and I’m going to keep going until I get that job.”
Jackson received a share of the first-team reps during team drills Thursday, alternating mostly with Kevon Seymour. Jackson looked to be in good position during the shorts-and-helmets practice, and is looking forward to matching up against the starting wideouts when the 1-on-1 drills start, likely as soon as Friday.
“Whenever it comes, I’ll be ready,” Jackson said. “I’m a cover guy so 1-on-1s, whenever we strap it on, whenever we get to doing it — we have a great receiving corps — just giving those guys good looks and good reps. I know they’re going to be coming at us hard to try to do the same.”
Jackson is anticipating the matchups with rookie receiver DJ Moore, the first-round pick from Maryland who is decidedly more muted than Jackson.
“DJ don’t say a word,” Jackson said. “I usually do most of the talking, between us two.”
The two have quickly formed a bond, the roots of which were formed at rookie minicamp when both tried to push each other a week after the draft.
“We try to hold the joking around in before we get a good rep,” Jackson said. “But that’s my dude. That’s my guy. We always try to make each other better.”
Jackson also was asked about Panthers wideout Damiere Byrd, who — like Jackson — ran track in college (South Carolina). Specifically, a reporter wanted to know if seeing Byrd made Jackson question who the fastest Panther was.
Jackson shot the reporter a sideways glance and said: “I never think I’m not the fastest guy on the team.”
Jackson, who had one of the fastest 40 times (4.32 seconds) at this year’s combine, says his speed shows up regardless of whether he’s in shorts or in full pads.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he could tell during the spring organized team activities and minicamp when the 5-10, 180-pound Jackson was unsure of himself.
“When he’s playing confident, comfortable out there, you see it. When you kind of see him back off, then I kind of wonder if he’s not sure. So he’s not playing as confident and he tries to react,” Rivera said. “But when he knows, he anticipates very well.”
Jackson says he’s still trying to grasp the defensive system, and is trying to go slowly as he learns the nuances of playing outside corner in the NFL.
It’s about the only thing Jackson is doing slowly.
“You should see me on my scooter, man,” Jackson said. “I can fly.”
Jackson brought a scooter to get around Wofford the next three weeks. A reporter made the mistake of asking if it was the motorized variety.
“I’m the motor. You see these things?” Jackson said, smiling as he pointed to his legs. “These are the motor.”