For his first two seasons in Gainesville, Florida safety Kyle Jackson has been a part-time starter and part-time performer. While he appeared in 22 games in that time, Jackson started just twelve. He has made a number of tackles (58) and grabbed some interceptions (4), but he has also missed several key tackles and dropped some chances to make big plays.
Jackson has played with authority and delivered big hits, but at times he seems hesitant in the back row of the Gator defense.
Jackson is now a junior on a very talented Florida defense that seems to have the potential to do a lot of good things this season. He acknowledges that many feel the only thing that could hold this defense back is the play of the secondary. He appears determined to raise his game to help make that happen and is clearly putting in the work to make that happen.
I talked with the Jacksonville Fletcher product about the Gator defense, his role in it and what he’s doing to make himself a better player.
LV: Kyle, what can Gator fans expect to see out of your unit this fall?
KJ: Great defense. Everybody talks about it because we have the experience. Tony (Joiner) and I have been playing since our freshman year and Reggie Lewis and Reggie Nelson are pretty much seniors. The whole front line, they’re just about all seniors.
LV: With Reggie (Nelson) moving over to corner, does it put a lot of pressure on you and Tony to play a lot of snaps and make a lot of plays?
KJ: Yeah, it does but that’s why I came here. You want to compete against the best players and you want to play on Saturdays. Reggie moving over there was a team thing and we all have to be willing to go out and do our jobs.
LV: When you look at your game and your play, where do you feel like you need to make the most improvement?
KJ: Tackling. Last year I missed a couple tackles and in the Mississippi State game I missed that one right before halftime. This off-season that’s pretty much all I’ve been working on. You see me after practice every day doing ten minutes of extra tackling. That’s just something I want to do and something I need to do.
LV: Is that extra important because most of the time if a free safety misses the tackle it’s a touchdown?
KJ: Right, that’s the big picture. You can be a playmaker or not; that’s the nature of the position and I’m willing to take it.
LV: Tell me about Ryan Smith. He wasn’t part of this team until a couple of days ago, but he was in there as the nickel back on the first unit. What impresses you about Ryan?
KJ: His feet, he has really quick feet. The thing about it is he’s a veteran and he knows all the plays because they ran mostly the same things at Utah they just called it something different. That makes it easier for him to pick things up. He was in there with the first nickel because Reggie (Nelson) was out with a back injury but he looks real good.
LV: What about him as a guy? How has he been able to meld in and become part of the team?
KJ: He pretty much has because he spent a lot of time with the coaches, especially Coach Heater. He knows what we’ve gone through and we’ve just brought him in as family.
You may recall my ranting about getting Kyle Jackson on the field throughout the first part of the 2004 season and once he did get to play he started the rest of the year. He has the ability to be a big time performer for the Gators, but the aggressiveness and productivity must be there on a more consistent basis. He must also be more of a playmaker in terms of creating takeaways for the Florida defense. Florida managed 16 interceptions last season, which is a good but not great total. Jackson should be in a position to help increase that number significantly this fall and if he does the Florida defense could have a dominant season.