NASHVILLE – Even when Theo Jackson answered the Tennessee Titans’ call late Saturday afternoon, he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.
The logical explanation, of course, was that the Titans were informing Jackson they’d drafted him.
Still, he wasn’t quite ready to believe that things had worked out as perfectly as he and his family had hoped. So, the Nashville native remained a little hesitant.
Then at last, the defensive back happily let down his guard.
The Titans had indeed chosen Jackson – also a University of Tennessee alum – in the sixth round (204th overall), a dream come true for him and the dozens of family and friends with him.
“When I first got the call, I was just saying, `Yes, sir, no, sir,’” Jackson said. “I was just trying to control myself really. Then once I figured out that they were picking me, emotions kind of took over because my long 18-19 years of hard work paid off. My family just exploded with excitement. It’s really just an all-around great, great experience for me.”
Jackson, who attended Nashville’s Overton High, said he was a Titans fan growing up in Antioch. He doesn’t necessarily remember specific players he cheered for, but recalled the excitement and atmosphere of watching games at Nissan Stadium.
“My uncle [S.L. Lampkin] owns a suite box inside the stadium,” Jackson said. “I’d go to the games and sit in the box and eat food and just enjoy the game.”
Fast forward about a decade to Saturday when Jackson and his uncle celebrated an even more meaningful moment.
“I'm at my uncle's house [right now],” Jackson said. “Funny thing with that is he is probably the biggest Tennessee fan. There are Tennessee jerseys everywhere. His whole downstairs is like Tennessee everything. So for me to get drafted to the Titans in that room, that was super special.”
The addition of Jackson makes for a great homecoming story, but it obviously means more than just that for the Titans.
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Jackson made the most of his fifth year at college, starting 12 games – as many as he did in his first four years combined. He posted career numbers, totaling 78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits and an interception.
Jackson credits first-year Vols defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tim Banks with making a big difference in his game.
“I think it was just the scheme change,” Jackson said. “It kind of allowed me to be more free. Then our playbook was a little bit easier. I could focus on what call I have to make and I could focus on what the offense could be doing most of the time. I watch a lot of film so when I guessed, I guessed right most of the time. That kind of helped me out to get that production.”
Jackson also displayed plenty of versatility while playing the hybrid STAR position at Tennessee, as he lined up at different times as an outside corner, slot corner and safety. The ability to move around the defense, as well as his strong special-teams work, should give him a chance to fill the role of Dane Cruikshank, who left the Titans for the Bears in free agency.
“The thing we like about Theo is we think he has a home in the kicking game, and I like his versatility on defense,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said. “I think he can play a couple different positions.
“He was an intelligent guy when we spent time with him -- can play safety and can play down around the line of scrimmage, maybe can play in a bigger nickel package on some matchup things. He ran well, so (I) was excited when he was there. It saves us a plane ticket -- just kind of drive over and get rolling.”
A native of Union City in west Tennessee, Robinson knows a thing or two about working for the hometown – or at least home-state – team, which is why it felt special for him to give Jackson the news.
“It's cool when there's a guy that's grown up here, and he has probably been to several of our games as a kid growing up,” Robinson said. “And to now play for us, I can imagine … I know what it felt like for me to come here in this role. I wasn't athletic enough to play professionally. I was barely athletic enough to play collegiately. But to be at the hometown team, I think that's pretty cool.”