After a standout sophomore season, LSU DE Tyson Jackson struggled to regain his form statistically last season, as he was often double-teamed. Despite his struggles getting to the quarterback, Jackson is widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in the country. He has the size, speed and strength that will ultimately make him a force at the next level.
Even though he didn’t have a breakout junior season, Jackson considered leaving LSU early for the NFL. But after weighing his options and seeing the success his former teammate Glenn Dorsey had by staying in school for his senior year, Jackson decided to remain at LSU and graduate.
In this Scout.com exclusive, Chris Steuber asked Jackson about his relationship with Glenn Dorsey and how he’s helped him as player, his struggles from his sophomore to junior year, who will take over for Dorsey in the middle and his goals for this season.
Chris Steuber: You started your career at LSU as a redshirt freshman, and when you got your opportunity to play the following season, you displayed a lot of promise. As a sophomore you emerged as one of the country's up-and-coming defenders when you recorded 8.5 sacks. But last season, your sack total dropped to 3.5. How do you explain the drop-off in your sack production from your sophomore to junior campaigns?
Tyson Jackson: The double teams came on a little bit more from my sophomore year to my junior year. I know a lot of people look at the stats, and my stats went down, but as a defensive lineman, I graded really well with my coaches. My defensive coaches were pleased with the performance I was putting out on the field, but I guess it all comes back to the numbers you produce. I felt that I really improved last season as a football player. I’ve matured as a person, and I really improved on the field. I thought overall I did pretty well last year.
CS: You and I both know that everyone looks at a defensive end's sack production, but when I study you on film I see a huge improvement in your run defense. Is defending the run something you take pride in?
Jackson: Yes, sir; I’ve really tried to step my game up against the run. During my sophomore season, I got knocked off the ball a few times, especially against double teams. I’ve really tried to learn everything about defending the run as I possibly could. I’ve been working out with some former defensive linemen who left LSU and are now in the NFL, and I got a few tips from them to improve even more against the run.
CS: Speaking of some of those former defensive linemen, what did Glenn Dorsey mean to you personally, and how has he helped your progression as a football player?
Jackson: It’s funny that you brought that up, Glenn was out here with me this past week, and we were working out together. He was showing me some of the things they are doing out in Kansas City. He was showing me some of the technique they use there, and it was very similar to what we do at LSU. There are a few adjustments with the hands and the feet, but everything else was basically the same. The way Glenn approaches the game is non-stop and he goes 100 MPH every play. That’s something I want to take from him and put that effort out on the field this season.
CS: I’m sure you were tempted to leave school early and realize a life-long dream of playing in the NFL, and with Glenn Dorsey leaving school I’m sure you were faced with a tough decision after the season. Why did you decide to return to LSU for your senior year?
Jackson: I only had three hours left until I graduated, and my mother wanted to see me graduate from college. Only having that much time left, that really weighed into my decision. Another reason was to improve as a football player. I wanted to try and have the best season I could possibly have and get my degree.
CS: Did you consider entering the draft at all?
Jackson: Yeah, I considered it, but after talking with Coach [Les] Miles and some of the coaches around here, they thought staying would be beneficial to me. They thought I had an opportunity to come back and have a break out season and improve my stats.
CS: At 6-foot-5, 290-pounds, you’re a bit of a throwback at the defensive end position. It seems that the NFL is obsessed with these undersized hybrid pass rushers who lack size, but bring the undeniable element of speed. Do you think being a bigger DE and not the in vogue hybrid terror helps or hurts your chances of being a top draft pick?
Jackson: Oh, I think it helps. Being an old-school defensive end helps me, because I can help out a hybrid player that may already exist on an NFL roster. An old-school defensive end like myself can defend the run, as well as get after the passer. I think that’s something I can bring to a team. A hybrid is in there for one thing, to rush the passer. I think I’m more useful to teams in the NFL, because a hybrid is mainly used in a 3-4 scheme where he can be an outside linebacker as well. I’m an all-around player.
CS: Is there a player in the NFL that you study and try to emulate?
Jackson: I’m always watching Julius Peppers. I’m like a sponge every time I see him on the field. I try to imitate his moves; everything that he does on the field I try to put into my game. I like the way that he approaches the game. I like the way he uses his hands and moves his feet; I try to simulate my game after Julius Peppers.
CS: You play for one of the top collegiate programs in the country, you’re one of the top defensive prospects in the nation - currently my top defensive end on my big board; how do you view yourself amongst the rest of the DEs in the country?
Jackson: I’m working out really hard right now, and I’m trying to get in the best shape of my life. I’m working out constantly with my teammates and continuing to develop as a pass rusher; to hear that kind of praise from you and other analysts makes me want to work even harder.
Jackson shows some emotion on the field and celebrates a victory.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
CS: Does hearing your name as the top DE in the country put more pressure on you, or does it add fuel to the fire?
Jackson: Nah, it doesn’t put any more pressure on me, it just adds fuel to the fire. The coaches around here say that the season is won during the off-season, and that’s why I’m putting so much work in right now. Hearing you say that I’m your No. 1 defensive end right now, that’s going to make me work even harder this year. Once the season comes around, I can just get on the field and release the fire.
CS: Even though Dorsey left, LSU may not skip a beat with Al Woods and Ricky Jean-Francois in the trenches. How do you feel they will fill the gap now that Dorsey is gone?
Jackson: Honestly, Glenn Dorsey was the best defensive tackle I ever saw. But we have Ricky Jean-Francois, and I’m telling you he’s going to be an amazing player. A lot of people are going to be shocked. We never fall off in talent; we just reload. We may have different names and numbers each year, but we’re always on the same talent level. Guys who are on the second or third team are always vying for your job, because those guys could be anywhere else in the country starting. The talent level we have around here is off the charts.
CS: Jean-Francois is an amazing player, but as his teammate what do you see in his game that makes you believe he’s going to be a great one?
Jackson: His speed off the ball, man, he’s like defensive end playing defensive tackle who possesses defensive tackle strength. His speed off the ball is so ridiculous. He’s so explosive, and he’s such a big guy; he’s about 6-4 1/2, 285 pounds. He brings it every day at practice, and knowing that he’s going to be in the middle for us this year is going to be huge for us.
CS: What are your goals for this season personally and for the team?
Jackson: Personally, like I said, I just want to get my stats up. My sophomore year I had a great year. My junior year my production went down. And my senior year, I want to bounce way back up with the stats. I want to improve as a defensive end. I know people judge defensive ends on their sack totals, but I want to be a complete defensive end. I know how to stop the run, I want to be able to rush the passer; I never want to be off the field. I want to be known as the best defensive end to ever play at LSU.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.