CRAWFORD | Post-Heisman, Louisville's Jackson talks about his new look, improved game
University of Louisville quarterback Heisman Trophy showed off a new look at ACC Football Media Days, and says the changes go further than his personal appearance.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) – A year ago at this time, Lamar Jackson was just a curiosity. He was a kid who had run all over Texas A&M and Kentucky in consecutive games to end his freshman season, and was hoping to run into more of the spotlight as a sophomore.
This year, the University of Louisville quarterback walked into the ACC Football Kickoff as a headliner. His Heisman Trophy was the first thing to greet visitors at the entrance to the event. He had his own section of the in-house highlight reel, capped by his leap of a Syracuse defender.
He had his own media mini-circus, which waited for him to finish a longer-than-normal stint with ESPN. He also had a new approach.
“Get friendly with the media. Talk to them. Smile. Answer questions,” Jackson said. “Last year I wasn’t really immune to all the cameras and stuff. I’d try to stay away from it. But it comes with it. You have to deal with it. Have fun with it. I feel like a different person handling all this.”
He looks like a different person, too. Jackson showed up with a new look. He’s added some muscle in offseason conditioning. And that’s not all.
“You can tell?” he said. “I think I gained 10 pounds. Hope I can still move. But I’m enjoying it. It feels good. Hope I look good. The suit feels a little tight.”
Gone is the red-and-black blazer he wore to accept the Heisman Trophy, replaced with an understated black ensemble.
“I feel like Will Smith,” he said. “Men in black.”
And he looks a little more like the actor, too, having cropped his hair short.
“I did it about a month ago,” he said. “I said when I got my braces off, I’m going to cut it. I feel I’m maturing. I’m 20 now, ain’t 19 no more.”
That maturation is one thing Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is counting on after a season that was historic, yet in the end not quite satisfying for Jackson or his teammates.
It’s one reason Jackson has found that though he returns as the Heisman winner, few people list him as the favorite – and not just because only one player, Archie Griffin, has won it twice.
“I know that,” Jackson said. “Archie told me that himself.”
A note: Jackson can drop a lot more names than he used to. He said when Michael Vick Tweeted that this kid at Louisville was five times better than he was, he had to protest. “He made that Tweet and I’m like, ‘No, he’s got to chill out.’ I told him that. I told him, ‘I appreciate the compliment, but you can’t say that.’”
He was a counselor at the Peyton Manning Academy at Manning’s personal invitation. But he is, in a lot of ways, the same guy who seemed genuinely touched by the enormity of winning the Heisman in New York City last December.
Jackson said he’s not bothered that others are getting more Heisman hype than he is heading into this season. He said he entered last season not worried about the award, and this season will be no different.
“I just want to win games,” he said. “I'm not worried about the Heisman Trophy or anything like that. I wasn't trying to win it last year. It happened. . . . I’m not thinking about the Heisman. I have one of my own. I want to win a national championship.”
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, meanwhile, has been thinking about what would make Jackson a better quarterback. He said there have been three emphases in offseason work. First, getting Jackson to work through his progressions, getting from No. 1 to No. 3.
“We want him understanding some combination patterns that we throw, where I go if it's single high, where I go if it's two high,” Petrino said. “So just really understanding the defense and letting the defense dictate where you throw the football.”
Second, Petrino focused on footwork and the mechanics of his delivery.
“When he sets in the pocket and he gets his back leg under his hip, he can zip it and be accurate and throw the ball as good as anybody I've been around,” Petrino said.
And finally, Petrino has worked to increase Jackson’s understanding of the running game. Part of that has been a bit of a tweak in the offense that takes some of the guesswork off of Jackson with a more straight-ahead rushing attack.
“We put a lot of pressure on Lamar because he doesn't only have to make decisions in the passing game, but he has to make decisions in the run game, so he just has to be real disciplined and good with his eyes and make the decision and not guess,” Petrino said. “You know, sometimes he would get in trouble last year if he guessed or thought he could get the wrong read but still beat him. So he worked hard at that, and he's doing a great job with it.”
Having said all that, don’t expect Petrino to venture too far from the explosive speed and running ability Jackson showed last season.
“We do have a philosophy at the University of Louisville that we call FTS, which means feed the studs,” Petrino said. “Obviously Lamar is one of our studs. So don't think that we're not going to call quarterback run plays or zone read plays or option plays, because we're going to give him his opportunities to make big plays and his opportunities to handle things that he did so well last year. We're just trying to improve upon it and be a better overall offense.”
Jackson says he’s up for the challenge. He said he welcomed getting back onto the field after his awards tour in December, and that he has felt better on the field since healing up from a case of turf toe that plagued in in the Cards’ loss to LSU in the Camping World Citrus Bowl.
Nor does he completely disagree with those who say that last season’s finish leaves him with something to prove. That’s why he has spent so much time working on his drop backs, his set up, making his reads, going through his progressions, learning check downs.
“I do have something left to prove,” he said. “I didn’t finish off the year the way I wanted to last year. I’m ready this year. I’m ready.”
As for the Heisman, it will always be there. It’s with his family in Florida, but he won’t say where or how it is being displayed. And there’s the replica, that was hanging in Charlotte on Thursday. He said he’s grateful for his Heisman experience, but not greedy about repeating it.
“It’s an honor and a blessing,” he said. “And I’m happy I have it. Growing up, playing the NCAA video game, Road to Glory, your player winning it, you were like, what if that happened to me one day? And for it to actually happen? It’s crazy. I think I said that a lot in my speech. It’s still crazy to me.”
That much hasn’t changed for Jackson – even if so much else has.
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