When the Denver Broncos selected defensive end Malik Jackson out of Tennessee in the 5th round of the draft, the Robert Ayers comparisons flew left and right.
Jackson and Ayers never spent any time together at Tennesse since Ayers left the year before Jackson arrived, but you can bet that Jackson will be using Ayers as a mentor.
“His pictures are everywhere (at Tennessee), you hear a lot about him, you watch him on film,” Jackson said. “Real good football player. Heard he’s a good guy and can’t wait to meet him.”
Jackson and Ayers didn’t play together because Jackson transferred from USC after his sophomore season. He didn’t feel like he was going to be a vital part of the team’s defense under Lane Kiffin because his focus wasn’t on football and he wasn’t doing well. When Tennessee called Jackson and asked if he wanted to come visit, he jumped at the chance to make a change.
Making the transition from Pac-10 football to SEC football wasn’t easy, however.
“Once you go in there (the SEC) and see all those big guys and try to play against the run, everybody’s fast and big,” Jackson said. “It was really shocking for me when I first got there…Every team is good and everybody looks for the SEC to go into the championship each year.”
Jackson earned All-SEC first team honors from the Associated Press after recording 56 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 tackles for a loss during his senior year.
As Jackson makes another transition, this time from college to NFL pro, he’s already noticing the differences. In college, the playbook is easier and coaches are more lenient.
“Here, they just throw it at you and say learn it,” Jackson said.
That’s why rookie mini camp is so important. It allows the rookies time to make mistakes without the veterans there.
Jackson needs to take advantage of the men above him on the depth chart. He’s got Ayers, Elvis Dumervil, and Jason Hunter to look to. It’s up to him what he does with their expertise.