Once unsure, Wyoming DT turns potential into production
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Javaree Jackson would be lying if he said he hasn’t surprised himself this season.
At 6-foot-5 and 276 pounds, what Jackson is capable of physically on the interior of Wyoming’s defensive line has never been much of a question. There’s always been quickness to go along with that size, but there’s one physical attribute that best defines Jackson’s game.
“He’s strong now,” defensive tackles coach Pete Kaligis said.
For Jackson, it’s always been about having the trust in his ability to go with it.
“I don’t know why,” Jackson told the Casper Star-Tribune. “For me, I’m super hard on myself. And the reason I say that is just because sometimes I don’t ever believe that I’m as good as I am. And once I watch myself on film — I watch a lot of film just to clean up the things that I can clean up and make myself a better player — I just felt like I wasn’t good enough.”
This season, Jackson has been plenty good enough. And he’s done it on the fly.
Jackson was in line to take over as the full-time starter for the departed Sidney Malauulu at nose tackle after playing in eight games as Malauulu’s backup last season. But once Ravontae Holt went down with a torn ACL in fall camp, Kaligis told Jackson he needed him to slide over to the 3-technique defensive tackle, where lining up in the gaps of the offensive line rather than head up on linemen wasn’t the only difference he had to get used to.
“At the nose, you get bumped a lot,” Jackson said. “They’re consistently on your hip the whole time. But at 3-tech, obviously you take on a lot of switch and double teams, but that’s not as bad as the bump. That was the biggest change about moving to 3-tech.”
Hands and footwork were important for Jackson in order to get himself in position to try to shed the different blocks coming his way, but Kaligis and the rest of Wyoming’s coach staff have long seen the potential in Jackson to be able to counter them even if Jackson wasn’t as sure of himself at first. A native of Wisconsin, Jackson signed with the Cowboys in 2017 and immediately became part of the rotation up front, playing in 11 games as a true freshman.
“He had to go in and play,” Kaligis said. “A lot of it was being able to adjust to what he saw and how to attack what he saw that fast. That takes time.”
Jackson isn’t hesitating much anymore. The junior has been at the forefront of another stingy defensive effort from the Cowboys this season, particularly on the ground. Wyoming is ninth nationally against the run, allowing just 98.3 rushing yards per game, and is also tied with Boise State for the Mountain West lead in tackles for loss (71).
Jackson, who’s already set a career-high in tackles (26), is fourth on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and also has 2.5 sacks.
“Javaree has kind of elevated his game,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “It’s certainly needed, and he’s played well.”
And Jackson has used his athleticism to produce his share of impact plays.
Late in the third quarter against Boise State, Jackson beat Broncos’ right guard Eric Quevedo off the ball, met running back George Holani in the backfield and knocked the ball free upon impact. He recovered the fumble, leading to a touchdown that put Wyoming ahead temporarily in its 20-17 overtime loss. Last week, Jackson ended Utah State’s first possession after just four plays when he batted Jordan Love’s screen pass into the air and laid out to corral it for an acrobatic interception.
“I’ve always known it’s been in there with the young man,” Kaligis said. “I think what’s been more fun to watch is how confident he’s starting to play and believing in who he is and what he can do. You always looked at the other guys (before this season). It’s always the other guys, and now it’s Javaree. And he’s just believing in who he is.”
It’s no longer got Jackson wondering if he’s good enough to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The proof is in the production.
“I hear from a lot of guys that you have a lot of potential. For some reason, I couldn’t trust myself,” Jackson said. “Once I started trusting myself, it kind of took me by surprise. Like, ‘Oh, OK, I really can do this.’”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com