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It’s a relatively common – and expected – occurrence at Giants’ training camp. Bennett Jackson, New York’s sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, has questions, and he’s looking for the answers.
Be it a coverage assignment, technique or read conundrum, different things pop up at different times. When they do, Jackson knows exactly who to go to.
“I usually ask something to Charles James,” Jackson said.
Wait, Charles James II? The Giants’ second-year corner who went undrafted last year and made the team as a long shot?
“He usually has a pretty good understanding of everything and he’s quick to answer,” Jackson said.
The budding friendship has blossomed since the Giants reported for training camp on Monday. Despite the fact both James II and Jackson are competing for potentially one available roster spot, the two have hit it off. James II knows he can text Jackson at any point in time. Jackson knows he can go to James II with any question that pops in his head.
While it’s not rare to have a rookie look to another player on the roster for help, the fact James II is supplying the answers may come a bit as a surprise. After going undrafted out of Charleston Southern last year, the 5-9, 179-pound James made the Giants’ roster last season.
The corner flashed on special teams in the preseason, made a few impact defensive plays and the Giants’ placed him on their practice squad as a reward. When injuries attacked New York’s secondary, it was James II who had his phone ring with the call up.
James II looks at Jackson and sees his own reflection from a year ago. There’s a wide-eyed rookie, brimming with potential, but needing someone to guide him to reach it.
“I know how it is to be a rookie,” James II said.“He’s trying to catch up with the entire process of being in the NFL. He just left Notre Dame, basically he was the man there, now he’s coming into a process where it’s moving faster.
“This is the NFL where those receivers are going to come faster. Those breaks are going to come quicker and he has to catch up in the playbook right away. I told him some of the things that I did to help me progress last year.”
While James II is helping Jackson, at the same time he’s helping himself. When Jackson has a question, James II can’t look back with a deer-in-the-headlights look. He challenges himself to make sure he can answer whatever Jackson throws his way. As soon as James II sees Jackson jogging of the field and headed his way, he knows it’s test time.
“He’ll come up to me and be like, ‘Hey Charles, what do I do in this coverage,’” James II said. “I’ll respond like, you do this, this and that. He’ll be like, ‘Oh, Ok.’ So it like refreshes my mind and it refreshes his. I’m just trying to be that helping hand.”
James II views himself as a “big brother” figure for Jackson, something Jackson may need more than anything right now.
Not only is he a rookie, but Jackson also has limited experience at the cornerback position. Throughout his entire playing career, Jackson was a receiver. It wasn’t until his sophomore season at Notre Dame that he was approached about a position change.
When Jackson was a freshman, he didn’t see much time at wide receiver, but he played in every special teams’ package. He loved to hit people. This was his chance to do so.
Coaches loved the physicality Jackson displayed and saw the lack of bodies at the cornerback position. Next thing Jackson knew, he was in a new film room.
“I ended up doing a lot better than I expected,” Jackson said. “I actually ended up having a lot more fun.”
His initial struggles came from the transition of constantly running forward, to moving fluidly backwards. Route recognition was easy, after all, it wasn’t long ago Jackson was the one running them.
The doubt that once clogged his memory worked its way out. Towards the end of his sophomore season, Jackson was fully comfortable at his new position. While he missed scoring touchdowns and catching passes, Jackson admitted hauling in an interception gets him much more “hyped.”
It may take some time before the coaches feel fully comfortable putting Jackson on the field in the secondary as there are still many parts of his game that need to be refined. But there’s no hesitation in putting him with the special teams and letting him do what once brought him so much joy:
When asked his goal and what he’d like to accomplish on special teams this year, an ear-to-ear smile stretched across Jackson’s face.
“Be a beast,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”