NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Adoree Jackson caught a punt and ran about 20 yards up the field. Then the Tennessee Titans rookie ran to the other end zone to return a kickoff, showing off his ability to kick into a faster gear and taking the ball 45 yards.
No time to be winded, though. The rookie cornerback had to head back out to play defense.
Jackson may have been a overlooked in the NFL draft as the Tennessee Titans’ second selection in the first round, but the 18th pick overall out of Southern California provided a glimpse of the speedy jolt he brings to special teams this season. It’s an area coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson spent a lot of time, money and a high draft pick toward improving for 2017.
“Pretty exciting player,” Mularkey said after Jackson showed his return skills in the team’s first scrimmage last weekend. “Showed his speed, showed what he’s capable of doing. He’ll be a threat, just as he was in college. He showed his speed.”
A year ago, the Titans signed veteran Marc Mariani the first week of last season to handle punts and kickoffs believing the former Pro Bowl returner at least would avoid mistakes. He did just that. But Tennessee still ranked just 26th in kickoff returns with 19.1 yards per attempt — 2 yards below the league average. The Titans ranked 20th on punt returns average (7.9).
Special teams have been woeful lately for Tennessee. Darius Reynaud is the last Titan to return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, and he did both way back in 2012. He’s also the guy who opened the 2013 season by stepping back into the end zone on a kickoff for a safety against Pittsburgh.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Jackson not only won the Jim Thorpe Award last year as the nation’s top defensive back, he also tied an NCAA career record with eight combined touchdowns on kick and punt returns.
Jackson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, took two punts for TDs in 2015 and capped off his college career with two TDs off punt returns and two more off kickoffs last season. He also was a sprinter and long jumper in college, placing 10th in the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Right now, Jackson is working behind LeShaun Sims at cornerback. So special teams might get him on the field quicker and is an area where Jackson knows he can make an immediate impact.
“It’s always fun because you get the momentum change, you get the crowd into it, and it’s exciting,” Jackson said. “Everybody loves touchdowns, so if you can get momentum change and things like that it’s always fun.”
On the first depth chart released Monday, veteran wide receiver Eric Weems is listed as the No. 1 kickoff and punt returner. The Titans signed Weems in March. But Mularkey said the scrimmage Aug. 5 was the first time the Titans have really set up and blocked for returners who will be evaluated through the preseason.
“We’ll evaluate as we go,” Mularkey said. “The preseason games will be important. But we know what a lot of our guys are capable of on tape already, from their history.”
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