Comfortable surroundings leading to offseason growth for Titans’ Jha’Quan Jackson

Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson has been acclimating to professional football. From getting into a huddle to defeating press-man coverage, Jackson has showcased consistent improvement. One thing that’s helped him is his relationship with running back Tyjae Spears.

Jackson and Spears have leaned on each other beyond football. Whether it was navigating Nashville following the NFL draft, or playing top golf and laser tag to ensure an escape from football was present when appropriate, Jackson has counted on his best friend. It led to desirable on-field results throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp.

Jackson recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports. Jackson discussed his acclimation growth throughout minicamp and OTAs, route running in a new offense, his bond with Spears, and more. We also discussed his relationship with wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and veteran players like Jeffery Simmons and DeAndre Hopkins.

JM: You’ve now completed three offseason workout phases as a Tennessee Titans rookie receiver. You participated in rookie minicamp, mandatory minicamp, and OTAs.  How do you feel you’re acclimating to professional football? What was the overall experience like?

Jha’Quan Jackson: It’s been a great experience so far. It’s an honor to be here. It’s the blessing of a lifetime. I’ve dreamed about playing in the NFL ever since I was a young boy. I’ve always wanted to be the best player I can be.

Going into that first week of minicamp, I was learning the playbook and getting to know the coaching staff. I was learning about the organization and how the culture wants to function. We had OTAs the following week and that’s when they started ramping up my reps.

The reps ramped up once again when I got to mandatory minicamp. By the time minicamp came around, I felt like I knew the playbook inside-out. I was getting my splits right and being a great communicator.

I was seeing coverages faster as well. That first week, you’re just trying to get your feet underneath you. It’s a new offense so you’re trying to do the right things, trying to be in the right spot at the right time.

It goes back to what coach Brian Callahan did with the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s a lot of different ways you can scheme things up to get your guy open.

JM: Expanding on that, did you have a “Welcome to the NFL” moment during that first week of practice? Something that made you say wow, this is definitely different?

Jha’Quan Jackson: I mean, that was probably the first time I really got into a huddle (laughs). We didn’t huddle in college. We used to get the call from the sidelines. That’s where we got our signals from. I could probably mention a few things, but really being in the huddle for the first time was the biggest difference.

JM: I love that (laughs). Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert attended your pro day at Tulane. Do you remember your interactions with him at pro day?

Jha’Quan Jackson: I definitely do. It was great. I had great interactions with every member of the Titans I met with throughout the pre-draft process. When coach Tolbert came to Tulane, we spoke before the pro day workout even started. We talked about my background and my family. We didn’t even really talk about football until after the workout.

We got on the white board a little bit. He wanted to see how fast I could recall the offense. He was impressed with what I showed him that day. I recalled the offense to him.

Who would’ve thought I would be with the Titans, man? Remember Justin, the last time you and I spoke, you told me I was going to be a Titan [at the Senior Bowl] (laughs). That’s crazy that you called it in January. It’s funny. I’m back with my guy [Tyjae Spears] and a lot of other great players. 

It’s a great organization with an amazing general manager and head coach. I can’t forget the owner Mrs. Amy Adams Strunk. She’s an amazing person. 

JM: She sure is! I appreciate your kind words. What’s your relationship like with coach Tolbert today? How is he helping you get better? 

Jha’Quan Jackson: It’s been great. It goes beyond coach Tolbert. All of the assistant coaches around him have been great as well. They’re always ready and willing to help. You might see the defensive backs coach telling the receivers how the DB might play a route. Everybody wants to help everybody.

It’s been nothing but love since the moment I got here, not just from the coaches, but from the veteran receivers as well. Guys like Arden Key, Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears, and Jeffery Simmons have been trying to help out us rookies.

Everybody is pushing us to be great. From the head coach to the defensive coordinator, it’s all of their first seasons in charge. It’s a new team and a new organization. It’s a new offense and a new defense for everybody, not just for the rookies.

Even the veterans feel like it’s a brand new team. Everybody is really starting from square one. It’s all about how quickly you can learn and pick up the scheme. Coach Tolbert has been a great asset for us in that regard.

Coach Tolbert wants us to be the best players we can be. We’re working on developing the tools we need to be successful. He coached Darnell Mooney in Chicago, Anquan Boldin, Odell Beckham Jr., Peyton Manning, and so on. He’s been around a lot of great players.

JM: He has a terrific resume. One of the biggest challenges any rookie receiver faces is getting used to seeing more press coverage. You didn’t see a lot of it at Tulane. How are you managing so far? The Titans have an incredible room of cornerbacks that will challenge you at the line of scrimmage.

Jha’Quan Jackson: That’s one of the biggest things when going from college to the NFL. You have guys that are just as fast as you. Everybody is good in this league. You have some guys that lean on football I.Q. and technique. Game speed, tendencies, it’s all completely different from college.

At the end of the day, constantly working on your craft is what separates you and makes you better. It goes back to what coach Brian Callahan did with the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s a lot of different ways you can scheme things up to get your guy open.

Press coverage doesn’t necessarily have to be harder. It’s all about knowing who you’re up against. If you’re going up against L’Jarius Sneed or Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, or somebody like Sauce Gardner, there are different types of players and different ways to win in this league.

It’s all about how you prepare yourself for that specific opponent.

JM: Your relationship with Tyjae Spears has been well documented. You guys were best friends and roommates at Tulane. What’s it been like to reunite with him?

Jha’Quan Jackson: It’s been great. Once I got the call, everybody knew he was at my draft party (laughs). He was right there with me. He thought I was going to get drafted by a different team. We were both so excited when the Titans made that call.

I’ve been here in Nashville ever since I got drafted. It goes beyond being with Tyjae. I’m loving the city of Nashville. It’s nice, calm, and quiet. I’m thankful that I get to wake up and spend almost every day with my best friend.

JM: I love the way you guys are leaning on each other. It goes way beyond football.

I told Tyjae Spears just yesterday when we were together, I probably would have been sad if I got drafted somewhere else. I would’ve been alone in that city. You can try to make it feel like home wherever you end up, but it’s hard when you don’t have anybody that you really know in that city. Being with him makes it feel like home.

He told me he was sad a lot last year when he first got to Nashville. Don’t get me wrong, he was so happy to be a Titan, but he didn’t have anybody from back home here. I don’t know what that feels like because I’ve been lucky enough to have him by my side every step of the way. I can’t imagine not having him here with me.

I felt way more confident and better about myself when I got here. I’m talking about life away from football. We can go play top golf or laser golf together. Hey man, let’s do something to get you out of the house. He didn’t really have that person last year.

We both feel so comfortable right now.

JM: We couldn’t be happier for you both. As you continue getting familiar with everybody else on the team, what’s your first impressions of Will Levis as a quarterback?

Jha’Quan Jackso: All three quarterbacks have been doing a great job. It’s a new offense like I said earlier. We’re all hammering down and learning the new system. From the first read to the second and third, it’s totally different. Those quarterbacks are learning the playbook to make sure they put the ball in the right position.

That’s true for Mason Rudolph as well. Malik Willis is doing a great job every single day. All three of those quarterbacks are competing. They’re trying to be the best quarterbacks they can be.

JM: You practiced returning kicks and punts at OTAs. That’s something you did frequently at Tulane. Are you hoping to be the starting kick and punt returner this season?

Jha’Quan Jackson: My goal is just to come in every day and go to work. Everything else will work itself out. I’m leaving that up to the coaches. They’ll be the ones to make those decisions. They want to put the right guys on the field to help us win games. I try to be the best teammate I can be. I’m pushing myself to be better and I’m pushing my teammates to go harder as well.

JM: We’ve appreciated your time today. This has been outstanding. You’re now on a midsummer break before training camp begins in late July. What are your goals heading into camp?

Jha’Quan Jackson: My main goal is to ensure that I’m both physically and mentally ready for camp. I have to make sure I’m prepared and up to par. This is going to be my first training camp at the NFL level. I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open.

I’m going to be a sponge. We have guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Calvin Ridley, and Tyler Boyd in our receiver room. Those guys are going to help make me a better player. I’m going to listen to all of their tips so I can catch on faster.

Say we have a formation out there with a play-call and concept versus a certain coverage. I know those receivers are going to help me understand what and why our approach is. It’s all about those quicker tendencies. I’m trying to learn something in five seconds as opposed to 12 seconds (laughs).

I want to be efficient. That’s how you line up fast and play fast.

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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