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Seahawks CB Michael Jackson "Picking Up Where He Left Off" After Breakout Season

Michael Jackson has been a standout in training camp as he fights to keep a starting job. 


Michael Jackson has been a standout in training camp as he fights to keep a starting job.

To understand what makes Michael Jackson the player he is, you have to hear him talk about his favorite play from the 2022 season.

Last season saw Jackson take over a starting role for the first time in his NFL career, starting all 17 games at left cornerback. And in those 17 games, his favorite play wasn't his first career interception, or one of his three tackles for loss, or one of his 12 passes defensed, or the blocked field goal he returned for a touchdown in Week 2. No, Jackson's favorite play was one that most people watching probably considered to be a meaningless moment in garbage time.

With the 49ers leading the Seahawks in the final seconds of a Week 15 game at Lumen Field, running back Jordan Mason broke a long run that, from the moment Mason broke through the line of scrimmage, it looked like a touchdown that would add to San Francisco's winning margin. But even if the game was essentially over, Jackson wasn't about to let Mason just walk into the end zone, so he started sprinting, and was eventually able to knock Mason out of bounds at the 2-yard line.

"That was by far more important than the interception, than any play I had," Jackson said. "I take pride in that. I've always been that dude, if you break, I'm going to catch you."

That tenacity, that willingness to give every last bit of effort he had on what was his 66th snap of a game that was all but over, help illustrates why Jackson, after years of bouncing around on practice squads and on and off of rosters, was able to start every game last season for a playoff team, and why, despite the Seahawks drafting a cornerback with the fifth pick in the 2023 draft, Jackson has a good chance at keeping his starting job when the regular season begins next month.

"He has the mentality of a warrior," said assistant defensive backs coach DeShawn Shead. "He has that same type of dog mentality, 'No matter what I'm coming in, I'm going to be the starting corner, and if I'm not, I'm going to practice and prepare as if I'm the starting corner. Nobody's going to work harder than me, nobody is going to get up earlier than me, and nobody is going to put in more work.'"

For Jackson, putting in the work still consists of being one of the last players off the field after walkthroughs as he catches balls off the Jugs machine, and back when he was on Seattle's practice squad in 2021, it meant thorough, game-like workouts with Shead on game days.

A fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft, Jackson had already spent time with Dallas, Detroit and New England, been released multiple times and traded once, all while appearing in only two regular season games before signing to Seattle's practice squad early in the 2021 season.

By the time he arrived in Seattle, Jackson was starting to wonder if the NFL was going to work out, thinking, "OK, if this doesn't work, I've got to use my degree." But he wasn't going to give up without trying to maximize his opportunity in Seattle, so during that year on the practice squad, he would come to the Virgnia Mason Athletic Center at 5:30 a.m. to go through workouts in which he would take the field and simulate going through a game.

"It was a way to not get too down, stay even keeled," he said. "… Because being on the practice squad is tough."

Jackson explained that he would line up at corner, and in his head think things like, "I'm at corner, two by two, Cover 3, read two, two goes in, one runs the dig, drive on the dig… I'd go through all the calls on the call sheet just to make me feel like I'm ready."

Then on game days, Jackson and Shead would get to the stadium extra early and go through another long workout.

"It helped mentally more than physically, just to keep me in it," Jackson said. "Being on practice squad, you get that question in your head, 'Can I play in this league?' that was my way to answer that question and put it to bed."

Jackson answered that question emphatically in 2022, winning a stating job in camp, then hanging onto it all season long despite multiple challenges from teammates returning from injuries. He then came back following the selection of Devon Witherspoon in this year's draft and was one of Seattle's best players in offseason workouts, and hasn't slowed down at all in camp.

"For me it was big, because it just showed me, 'Bruh, you can really play in this league,'" Jackson said of starting last season. "Being on the practice squad all those times, I really prayed, 'Just give me a chance.' When I got my chance, I did it. The biggest thing I loved, as the season went along, you just saw my confidence go from ground zero to the sky. I feel like I need to build on that."

Almost Dominant? Not Good Enough

The second the Seahawks selected Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick, adding him to a position group that already included Pro-Bowl corner Riq Woolen, most people watching the draft just assumed that Witherspoon would pencil in at left cornerback to start opposite Woolen.

But in Pete Carroll's always compete world, jobs must be earned, and throughout offseason workouts and now in training camp, Jackson made it very clear that he wasn't going to give up his job without putting up one hell of a fight.

"Michael Jackson's had the best camp of anybody," Carroll said in June at the end of the offseason workouts program. "He had a great camp, and he's stepped up for the challenge of it, had just a really productive, almost a dominant camp for us, and so that was great to see that. We need it."

High praise, but to Jackson, those words also represented a challenge to be even better.

"To be honest, he was like, 'I almost dominated.' So me, I just read 'almost.'… Guys on the team like DK (Metcalf), Geno (Smith), (Tyler) Lockett, Riq and a bunch of others, those guys dominate. So if I want to be in that caliber, the next time he talks about me, he needs to be like, 'He dominated.' Not almost."

Almost disclaimer notwithstanding, Jackson has been earning rave reviews from teammates and coaches, and with three weeks remaining until the season opener, he is in the driver's seat to once again open the season as the team's starting left cornerback, though he is facing stiff competition from Tre Brown, and potentially from Witherspoon when he returns from a hamstring injury.

"I hate to say this, because I want my expectations to be in the right spot, but he's exceeded expectations," Carroll said earlier in camp. "He has continued to do that and with the season that he played last year, the offseason that he had and already in camp he's made a statement. He's been going against DK (Metcalf) and they have been battling out there. I couldn't ask for anything more than that and his attitude is good. You know he's a big kid, 215-pound corner. There are not many guys like that and he's really fast too. He has taken great pride in his technique, the scheme and all of that so he's not giving it up for anybody. He's battling to be the guy out there starting."

Jackson potentially holding onto his starting job is just the latest example of him holding off the competition. He initially got his chance with the No. 1 defense because of injuries in camp, but as Artie Burns and Sidney Jones IV returned from their injuries, Jackson held off any challenges from his job. Later, when Brown, who had won a starting job as a rookie, returned from a knee injury, he too was unable to unseat Jackson. And now, with Witherspoon joining an already loaded position group, Jackson welcomes the competition, knowing it will make the team better, even if that means he isn't on the field.

"It's a competition, but we're not going against each other, it's not basketball," he said. "So at the end of the day, if a guy I'm competing against gives up a deep ball, we all gave up that deep ball, so I'm going to do my best to give them tips and tendencies to help them out, because nobody did that for me. That was the one thing I said, no matter if I was in this league for forever, or for a hot second, I'm not going to hold back just so I can win the competition. Because if I'm the best guy, I should win off that, not off trying to keep secrets and stuff."

That approach is paying dividends in this year's camp, and the receivers lining up against Jackson have noticed.

"He had a great year last year and is picking up where he left off," Tyler Lockett said. "He's playing great and is challenging all of us at receiver. He's doing great at understanding route combinations and plays when it comes to down-and-distances… I'm excited to see him battle. The biggest thing about this game is that you always want to show your value and what you're able to do. The better and better you play, it's harder for coaches to keep you off the field."

Said DK Metcalf, "He just picked up from where he left off last season. He's been here all offseason. So throughout OTAs, minicamp, and whenever I popped up here and went against him in practice, it was always a battle for me. He's always made it tough for me to not only get off the line of scrimmage but at the catch point he's always battling trying to knock the ball out at the last second. Just somebody that I could go against who's going to be physical and competitive with me at the same time. Who is also a pro and knows how to play the game."

Trying To Find The Right Combination

With Jackson and Brown both performing so well in camp, and with Witherspoon and last year's nickel corner, Coby Bryant, showing so much versatility, the Seahawks have a lot of options when it comes to how they use their cornerbacks.

Now that Woolen is back from his knee injury, he is expected to slide back into his starting spot on the right side, but it's less clear what that position group will look like in Week 1 beyond that. Witherspoon's versatility, playmaking ability and physicality led to the Seahawks moving him inside to the nickel spot, and he was running with the No. 1 defense in that role prior to his injury. Carroll did say Witherspoon will be in the mix at left corner as well when he gets back, but in order to get the best three corners on the field, while also making the most of Witherspoon's unique skillset, the move to start the season very well be to go with Witherspoon inside. That would take Coby Bryant out of the starting lineup, but he has also been working at safety this camp and looked good there, and Carroll has said repeatedly that they are looking at different ways to get various combinations of defensive backs on the field to maximize the talent and depth of that group.

"Here's what we are really thinking," Carroll said. "What we're thinking is we got really good depths in our corners. And we have a chance to work on some different combinations. We've moved Coby around a couple of times too. He's playing on both sides, and he's doing some stuff for us, laying safety, a little bit as well. We're just trying to find the right combination. You know and see what's competitive."

Said Brown, who has taken a big leap this summer after coming back last season from the patellar tendon injury that cut short his 2021 season, "The cornerback group is stacked top to bottom. You've got guys from the bottom to the top who can all play and contribute to this team. That's what makes us really strong. We believe in ourselves, we've got guys who can play everywhere. I believe in this corner room; I think we have one of the best corner rooms in the game."

Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks cornerback Mike Jackson from the 2022 season.

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