Change is nothing new for Jackson
When North Carolina senior Tim Jackson was moved from defensive end to nose tackle last season, it meant learning a completely new set of techniques, reads and responsibilities.
At least by then he was used to dealing with change.
Entering his fourth year in the program, the St. Petersburg, Fla. native will be playing under his seventh defensive line coach. Each one had a different style and different expectations.
“I’ve definitely heard different techniques. I’m always bringing old techniques to the new coach,” Jackson said. “You don’t fight it, you just do what they ask you to do, because they’re the ones coaching you and if you make them happy, they play you.”
Jackson’s first position coach was John Blake, who resigned after one game in the midst of an NCAA investigation. Art Kaufman then took the position group on an interim basis, and Charlie Coiner finished up.
When Jackson was a sophomore, Brian Baker was the defensive line coach for one month before he jumped to the Dallas Cowboys, and Joe Robinson took over for the rest of the year.
When current head coach Larry Fedora came in for 2012, he brought defensive line coach Deke Adams with him from Southern Miss. Then Adams left for South Carolina this past offseason and was replaced by Keith Gilmore, who came over from Illinois and is now in charge on Jackson’s unit.
“I approach it as a professional situation,” Jackson said. “Dealing with turnover, you just have to be a pro. Each coach has different stuff they want you to do. You just have to be coachable and do what they ask.”
Jackson has done his best to take advantage of all the coaching changes by adding a wide variety of techniques to his repertoire and becoming a better all-around player.
“Continuity is valuable, obviously, but I just see it as an edge -- something I have over other players,” Jackson said. “Some people say my production hasn’t been as it should be because of that turnover, but I don’t see it that way. That’s just an excuse for doing less than what you should. I just try and do my best no matter who’s coaching me.”
In fact, the biggest change was moving from end to tackle. Even though it was moving over just one spot, the differences were dramatic.
Jackson began taking on more double-teams and his gap responsibilities changed. He was engaged more quickly because he was right on top of the ball, and he needed to play a lot lower and rely more on leverage and power.
“It’s like 180 degrees different,” Jackson said.
The switch was made because UNC’s defense changed formations under Fedora, and the team only needed one end on the field. Instead of backing up all-ACC candidate Kareem Martin, Jackson was moved inside so he could still start alongside future NFL first-round pick Sylvester Williams.
Jackson finished with 18 tackles, including four for loss, and made seven starts. But he also missed two games with a knee injury after he was cut-blocked by a Duke lineman.
“It was tough,” Jackson said. “I had a lot of negative thoughts about what happened there, but it’s a game. That stuff is out of your control. All I can do is circle Nov. 30 (when Duke plays UNC) on my calendar and be ready to go against those guys on senior night. I feel like I’m going to put on a show. That’s how I feel. I have a lot of, you know, competitive animosity.”
Jackson was forced to watch the N.C. State game from the sidelines as he recovered, and also missed the next game against Georgia Tech because coaches were worried about the Yellow Jackets’ propensity for cut blocks.
Jackson said he still thought back to the Duke game when he needed an extra burst of motivation in the offseason.
He also thought about advice from Williams, who is now with the Denver Broncos and told Jackson to be a football player, not a robot. In other words, there’s only so much coaching he should take, no matter who is currently in charge of the defensive line.
“A lot of coaches say, ‘Don’t let me overcoach you,’” Jackson said. “At the end of the day you have to be a football player. He lets me know that if the play’s there, the opportunity’s there, you have to go take it.”