TAMPA — This wasn’t the Jackson most Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans expected would be in rookie mini-camp this weekend.
While many expected the Bucs to address their need at wide receiver by spending a first-round pick on California’s DeSean Jackson, the Bucs rolled the dice on Appalachian State’s Dexter Jackson in the second round.
The 5-foot-9, 182-pound wide receiver and kick returner was in camp this weekend answering questions about his credentials as a receiver, lining up across from head coach Jon Gruden in practice and wearing his ever-present yellow and black shoes, a remnant of his days at ASU.
“They’re my good luck shoes,” Jackson said of the rather loud Nikes.
Jackson ran one of the top 40 times at the scouting combine and won three Division I-AA national titles with ASU. But in truth his star has been on the rise since the Mountaineers’ upset of nationally-ranked Michigan last September.
Against the Wolverines he caught three passes for 92 yards, including touchdowns of 68 and 20 yards. Jackson and his yellow shoes were the talk of college football after the upset, as he landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and started fielding interview requests from around the country.
The extra attention was a jolt to Jackson’s draft stock. His numbers at ASU weren’t off the charts, as he averaged about 33 receptions per season. But his overall receptions, yards and touchdowns at ASU are all in the Top 10 in program history.
“I feel like it helped kick start this whole journey for me,” Jackson said. “I feel like that game really put me on the map and people said, ‘Let’s check him out and see what he’s all about.’”
Jackson’s performance earned him invitations to both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, and his stock rose considerably after each contest. Jackson went from a fourth- or fifth-round selection in January to a solid third-round pick by the end of the scouting combine in February, where he ran a blistering 4.37.
The Bucs met with Jackson at their facility last month before the draft and spent a late second-round pick on Jackson, who was the 10th receiver off the draft board.
His first day at his new office came with an overwhelming playbook and Gruden’s grimacing mug staring at him across the line of scrimmage during receiving drills.
“I was like, ‘Just throw me the perfect pass and I’ll make the perfect catch and then try and do something after it.’ Hopefully he (Gruden) likes it,” Jackson said.
Jackson should challenge immediately for a special teams role at kickoff and punt returner. Gruden has longed for an explosive returner for years and Jackson might finally provide that. Jackson returned 93 punts and 35 kickoffs at ASU and scored twice. His 12.3-yard average on punts in 2006 was tops in the Southern Conference.
Jackson knows the special teams work will come now and the receiving — where the Bucs envision him in the slot — will come later. And he’s fine with that.
“I feel there’s a lot to learn but it won’t be too hard because I know that I’ll be on the field helping in special teams,” Jackson said. “I think I can easily progress and learn from the vets at receiver.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for the Charlotte Sun and Bucsblitz.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.