Tennessee Titans third-year cornerback Chris Jackson has developed into one of the better value picks made by general manager Jon Robinson on Day Three of the NFL draft. Jackson is a tough and versatile cover-man that can wear multiple hats on defense. In 2021, Jackson appeared in 12 contests, starting three. The former Marshall standout recorded career-highs in total tackles (34) and pass breakups (four) while earning an excellent run defense grade of 81.9, via Pro Football Focus.
Jackson recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports regarding the growth he captured as a sophomore, entering his third season, the overall makeup of Tennessee’s young but effective secondary, first impressions on young players, and so much more.
JM: You took another step forward as a sophomore in 2021 after impressing as a rookie in 2020. You earned more playing time and the coaching staff trusted you enough to utilize you in a versatile role. Now that you’ve had some time to really think about it, how do you look back on your second season?
CJ: I look back on my second season as a success. I’m happy with what I accomplished as a sophomore. I view it as yet another stepping stone for me. I’m trying to build from my successes while also learning from the failures of my second season. I’m always trying to build and get better. That’s the best way for me to reflect on my second season, if I’m being honest with you.
JM: How are you ensuring that you continue on a positive trajectory while playing an even bigger role in your third season in 2022?
CJ: It all starts with the offseason. As soon as our season ended, I took the same approach I always have and that means getting right back to work. I’m trying to get better every single day. That’s always been the biggest thing for me. I’m trying to carve out a prominent role for myself on this defense. That’s where my focus is.
JM: The secondary was a strength of an extremely dominant and talented defense in 2021. You guys showcased tremendous growth from the 2020 group that struggled at times. The majority of you are returning in 2022, minus guys like Jackrabbit Jenkins and Dane Cruikshank. What do you credit for the growth you guys showed as a collective unit last season?
CJ: I would credit our coaching staff first and foremost. I think about the meetings in our position room and we had such a great group. Guys like Kevin Byard, Jackrabbit Jenkins and Amani Hooker really took control. They led by example.
Being a young guy, it’s great to have somebody like Kevin Byard to lean on. We watch the way he practices and how he goes about his business when it comes to preparing to practice and play. He sets an example. It has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the secondary, so to speak. That group set the standard in the room early last year and we had to uphold that. They set the tone early. They brought us young guys along and we all competed together. We had a special bond and it carried us through the season.
JM: It really is a special group. You played more outside corner in 2021 than you did in 2020. It showcased your ability to play both inside and outside for a secondary that thrives on multiplicity. How did you develop that overall aspect of your game?
CJ: Me being a versatile guy really stems from my experiences in high school. I played a bunch of different positions in high school. I still played two different positions throughout my time in college. Even now in the league, this coaching staff trusts me to execute my assignments. They gave me the tools and pointers necessary to play both inside and outside in this defense. I was using those coaching tips to the best of my advantage. It helped me develop and become a better player.
Playing outside is something I did at Marshall University. It felt really good to be back outside in 2021, in addition to my duties playing in the slot.
JM: It was nice to see you playing on the boundary. Entering your third season, you’re still a very young player, but you also have more experience than a lot of the other young corners in the room. Guys like Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden and Roger McCreary are less experienced than you are. Things change so quickly in this league. How are you embracing that?
CJ: I’m embracing it just like you said. Looking within our group, we have a young secondary and I’ve definitely played a lot of snaps for this defense in comparison. I’ve played more snaps than most of the guys we have. It puts me in a unique position like you said, I’m not a veteran, but I’m definitely an experienced third-year player. I feel blessed to be in this position. I have some experience under my belt. It’s a positive for me because I can use that experience in practice and I better understand how to carry that momentum over into a game. I don’t get as nervous as I used to (laughs). That experience is very beneficial to me.
JM: It certainly is. When you were a rookie in 2020, I imagine guys like Malcolm Butler, Kevin Byard, who is somebody you already mentioned, and Kenny Vaccaro helped show you the ropes. How are you repaying that to some of the young corners I just mentioned such as Farley and McCreary, who may look your way for advice?
CJ: Anytime a young guy comes my way and asks me a question, I’m happy to talk and help in any way that I can. I’m very open and willing to have those discussions. They can learn from me, and I can still learn from them as well. An older guy like Malcolm [Butler] taught me a lot as a rookie. Even last year, Jackrabbit Jenkins taught me some new techniques and showed me things about the cornerback position I hadn’t previously experienced. I can still learn to this day. I definitely want to help teach those lessons to the young guys as much as I can.
JM: Those things can make you an excellent teammate. You’ve previously discussed having a strong relationship with secondary coach Anthony Midget. How has that relationship evolved throughout the years?
CJ: Coming in as a rookie, I knew the coaches were going to grind me (laughs). It helped set the tone for our position room. Throughout these past two years, I think I’ve earned a lot of coach Midget’s trust. We built that through hard work. I think I’ve shown him that I’m willing to be coached. I’m a coach-able player. On my end, it’s great to have a coach that wants to coach. On his end, he’s happy to have players that want to be coached. It builds mutual trust and respect. We have a very open, willing relationship. We hear each other out. Working with coach Midget is a lot of fun. He’s great.
JM: That’s terrific. I know you guys haven’t put the pads on yet, but if you had to pick one of your young teammates as a breakout star for this season, who would you choose and why?
CJ: Picking one guy is tough (laughs). We have so many young guys within our position room alone. So many of our young players impressed not only our coaches, but our players as well. I can’t single out one young guy. I’ll give you a few. From the rookie class alone, Roger McCreary has excited us. I feel like Theo Jackson has a chance to become a very good player. Of course I’m mainly going to talk about the guys in our room specifically (laughs). Roger and Theo stand out.
Caleb Farley didn’t get to play much last year due to injury. I know that’s been tough for him and he’s going to come back as a bigger, faster and stronger version of himself. I’m very excited for those three players, and everybody else we have.
JM: Those are some great choices. I’ve appreciated your time today, Chris. In closing, what are your goals as we get ready to kick off training camp here in a few days?
CJ: My goal is to come back as prepared for training camp as I can possibly be. That comes first and foremost. I’m looking to carve out a specific role for myself on this defense. I’m looking to make this team again while helping us win a lot of games for the third year in a row. We want to get to the Super Bowl. That’s the biggest goal for the 2022 season.