Jackson has chance to make immediate impact
Nebraska had the luxury of landing a handful of players in its 2015 recruiting class who went on to play major roles right away as true freshmen last season.
When NU head coach Mike Riley looks at his newly acquired 2016 class, it wouldn’t surprise him one bit if Lamar Jackson became one of the next first-year Huskers to make an immediate impact.
The four-star defensive back from Elk Grove (Calif.) Franklin was the final commitment in Nebraska’s ’16 group, but with his combination of physicality and football instincts that helped him become the No. 1-ranked high school safety in the country, Jackson could be the first to see the field this upcoming season.
“Physically, Lamar is ready,” Riley said. “My general bit of advice is, ‘Come here ready to play. Get yourself ready to play and compete in the games. Don’t come ready to redshirt. Get yourself ready to go and let’s see where it takes us.’ A guy like Lamar, with his size right now and his development, he’s got that opportunity.”
A big reason freshmen defensive players like linebacker Dedrick Young and safety Aaron Williams were able to see such significant roles so early had to do with a lack of depth at their respective positions, but they also earned their way onto the field by hitting the ground running from their very first practice last spring.
The competition at safety appears to be pretty thick looking ahead to the start of the upcoming season, but as long as Jackson can match his physical ability with an equal amount of mental progress when he arrives on campus this summer, Riley said there was no reason he couldn’t have a role in some capacity.
“A guy like Dedrick Young, he stepped in the door last year and physically, he looks the part, physically ready to go,” Riley said. “Some guys need a little bit more development. Some guys need to practice more. Some guys need to learn more, and that’s kind of the separator for the guys that are physically ready to go. When they come into fall camp, if they can grasp what we’re doing and show that performance on the field at practice, then they’ve got a shot to move in.
“As I’ve told you before, our deal on freshmen is if we’re not going to redshirt them, then they are playing in the games. You will see them playing. They’re not going go in in mop-up sometimes and that’s going to be what they do. If we’re not redshirting them, we’re going to make sure they get a lot of value in that year.”
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Jackson didn’t register many big statistics as a starting safety at Franklin last season, finishing with 28 tackles and one pass breakup as opponents made sure to avoid throwing in his direction. Despite those low numbers, Jackson was still a first-team all-state selection.
The fact that Nebraska was able to land such a highly-regarded prospect - who had a slew of other offers from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC, and UCLA - was considered one of the biggest victories for Riley and his staff in their 2016 class.
For Riley, what was just as important as signing a player of that caliber was that he knows Jackson also truly embraces the opportunity that awaits him in playing for Nebraska.
“This is a great place,” Riley said. “We give them a combination of things that nobody can match, in terms of the life skills they get here, the academic support and the football part of it and the experience in football. The combination is awesome, and I think these guys get it.
“I think that’s why a guy like Lamar Jackson, who makes a visit during the season and sees a game with all the opportunities he has out there, he gets it. He knew what he saw there and he felt it and he’s excited to live it and I think that’s what this group is about.”