NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cornerback Adoree' Jackson is one of the Tennessee Titans’ most athletically gifted players. He was clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. But the 2017 first-rounder also has taken his share of criticism for up-and-down performances on Sundays.
As he enters his third NFL season, Jackson is working on blocking the outside noise and becoming more mentally sharp. He is taking a big-picture approach, because he knows if he gets better, the team also will get better.
"Physically, I will take my tangibles over anybody. I mean every athlete will say that," Jackson said Tuesday after practice. "I am trying to better myself mentally. It's something that has always been in my mind. I want to be better. I have to figure out what I don't do well and how I can do it better to help myself, this secondary, the defense, and it will trickle down."
Through two seasons, Jackson has two interceptions, both of them coming last season. But the 2018 campaign had its share of highs and lows. Jackson's best performance was when he limited Patriots wideout Josh Gordon to two receptions for 14 yards (Gordon had a total of four receptions for 81 yards) in a 34-10 win over New England. But he struggled to contain Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (nine receptions for 155 yards, two TDs) in a 38-10 Week 11 loss at Indianapolis.
The uneven performances aren't unusual at cornerback. As Titans defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs pointed out, "The corner position in the NFL is a very, very challenging position. You're going to go against the other team's best players, best athletes week in and week out." The best cornerbacks are the ones who can quickly get over a bad result and move on to the next play or day. Staying positive during the down times helps block out the criticism.
Part of Jackson's new approach involves getting to the facility earlier. He is taking advantage of the experience he has at his disposal by asking veteran defensive back Logan Ryan a lot of questions. The two are spending more time together, since neither is participating in team or 7-on-7 periods as they rehab from injuries. (Jackson had offseason foot surgery but is expected back for training camp, while Ryan is recuperating from a broken fibula suffered in December.) It allows Jackson to pick Ryan's brain while they're watching plays unfold. It also is giving Jackson a chance to show off his colorful personality.
That's what he did during a 7-on-7 period on the first day of minicamp. Cornerback Tye Smith had just broken up a pass from Marcus Mariota intended for WR Tajae Sharpe. Jackson flashed a smile and made sure Sharpe heard him congratulate Smith for making the play. Jackson could be heard after most of the reps, telling the defensive backs what they did well or offering pointers. Being a leader is important to Jackson.
"I want to be more mentally sharp and physically be at peace with myself and do everything that I want to do," Jackson said. "If I can be the best me I can be, I know it will be beneficial to the team. I did it before in college and high school. I am trying to develop and get better."
Jackson is working to be more at peace during tough times, knowing that he did everything he could to get better and put forth his best effort. His family and faith play a big part in his ability to stay positive. They helped him get through real-life issues, such as when his mother beat breast cancer while Jackson was in college.
"Praying is one of the key things in keeping yourself sane and going. Every day is not going to be a good one. You won't feel your best every day, but I keep praying, and I understand that I woke up this morning, so I am blessed. Some stuff may go bad and go downhill, but it's not always going to be like that," Jackson said.
Head coach Mike Vrabel offered some old-school wisdom when asked about how to ignore the critics.
"Everybody has an opinion. That's this business, but we have to focus on what we can control," Vrabel said. "I've learned that you try to live your life like a river. On one bank is the future. On the other bank is the past. When you worry about the future, it's called anxiety. When you worry about the past, it's called depression. We have to try to stay focused on what's happening now."