Sept. 24, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
Eric Berry gets a little weirded out thinking about the similarities.
Tennessee's All-American safety and reigning SEC defensive player of the year began his career as a nickel back. In his second game, he started at safety, and he's started every game since then.
Enter Janzen Jackson, who arrived this summer as a five-star recruit, began his career at nickel and started his second game at free safety.
Jackson got the nod again last week at Florida, where he made a touchdown-saving play just before halftime. In Berry's first trip to Florida, he returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown.
"That's a really creepy thing in my eyes," Berry said last week, before Jackson separated Florida receiver Brandon James from the football in the end zone.
The parallels are definitely interesting. And they don't stop there, either.
UT coach Lane Kiffin has high hopes - and expectations - for Jackson.
"I think he's going to be an All-American player as long as he stays healthy and keeps practicing hard and preparing hard," Kiffin said. "He gets it. Janzen gets it. That's part of the reason he came here. He wanted to play for Monte (Kiffin) because Janzen wants to be a coach one day. Learning from him is better than going anywhere else."
Berry has spent plenty of time working with Jackson, too, to the point where Jackson calls Berry his tutor.
"Really, it's like getting my own personal tutor for the NFL," said Jackson, who spurned in-state LSU to sign with Tennessee. "He's going to the NFL. He's going to be one of the top picks in the draft. I soak it all up. He's one of my favorite players, favorite college football players, favorite safeties of all time.
"It's really like a dream come true."
But there still a pinch-yourself quality to Jackson's rise.
"It's going to sound crazy, but there's actually some things that he does better than Eric sometimes," said Lane Kiffin, who went on to say Jackson has looser hips that make it easier for him to play cornerback than Berry. "He's not the player Eric is yet, we all know that. But he's got the potential to be a great player."
Berry revealed that Jackson actually received a higher grade from coaches for his performance against Florida than he did. And that was from last week, not compared to Berry's debut in The Swamp.
"I told him you did much better than I did in my first big SEC game," Berry said. "He has a bright, bright future."
He also has some competition coming.
Berry, who agreed with Kiffin's assessment of Jackson as being a little more versatile, loves Jackson's performance and progress. He's also motivated by it.
"This week? No," Berry said with a smile when asked if he thought Jackson would grade out higher after Saturday's game against Ohio, too. "He's not going to get me this week."
What did Jackson think of his big hit against Brandon James? Visit Drew Edwards' blog, The Inside Source to find out.