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Carolina Panthers

Donte Jackson getting competitive, and vocal

Donte Jackson

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Donte Jackson threw his hands against his helmet in exasperation.

A pass from new Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield barely missed Jackson's grip – his second close chance at an interception of the 7-on-7 drill – and you could see the frustration from Carolina's energetic cornerback.

"I have to catch the ones that come to me," Jackson said. "We're trying to be one of the top defenses in this league. It's going to come down to the ones that we're supposed to have."

There's an intensity to how Jackson and his teammates on the Panthers' defense are taking on this year's camp at Wofford. Of course, there's always the push to pick off passes and force fumbles, but a particular sense of urgency lingers as Carolina's defense looks to make a jump in 2022.

Perhaps, as Jackson put it, there's a desire to get some recognition. The Panthers did finish second in the league last year in total defense, a jump from 18th the season before. This year they're looking to get more takeaways and an improvement in the red zone (areas they finished 26th and 30th last season, respectively), and setting the mentality in training camp is up first.

So the defense goes out in Spartanburg and trains like they're the top of the league, Jackson said.

"We all have that same intensity, just to go out there and show people that we're here too," Jackson said. "When you look around, they talk about the top defenses (and) they don't talk about us, even though we finished in the top five."

For Jackson, part of practicing like he's top of the league involves a little bit of chatter – talking some smack here and there – and that internal push to be Carolina's best.

Jackson finished last season tied for the most interceptions on the team, coming up with two in 2021. There's already competition brewing across the defense, as everybody looks to finish with the best figures, Jackson said.

"I know that if I'm going hard, I know the other guys are going to go hard, because we're a competitive group," Jackson said. "Everybody wants to have the most picks. Everybody wants to have the most forced fumbles. So when we keep that attitude, everybody's going to go out there and eat."

But before the Panthers can start counting statistics during games, they're already getting competitive about who gets the first takeaways.

The first interception honor went to Keith Taylor Jr. in Wednesday's practice, as he picked off Mayfield on the first day of training camp. Jackson said the defense took notice of who got the first takeaway in camp – and now they're ready to catch up.

"He made a great play on the ball," Jackson said. "That's what it's going to take."

But there's another competition underway on the other side of the ball that's also sparking improvements for the secondary, Jackson said.

Yes, the quarterback battle between Mayfield, the new man in town from the Browns, and incumbent starter Sam Darnold is helping sharpen up the defensive backs' play in camp too.

"(Quarterback competition) helps us grow as a secondary tremendously," Jackson said. "Both guys are going out there, fighting to make plays. Most importantly, it's going to bring out the best in our team – the best in our offense.

"It's going to bring out the best in both of those guys, so that's really the main goal. Both guys are competing to make the team better, and we're all on board."

While working up to improve his own game, Jackson almost grabbed two picks on the second day of training camp. He may have narrowly missed his chances Thursday, but he trusts his experience as a starter and knows there will be plenty of more opportunities to come his way.

And when the chance comes his way again, Jackson knows he's going after it.

"I've seen a lot, been through a lot, had a lot of plays made on me, made a lot of plays," Jackson said. "You get that confidence in yourself that you've seen a lot of things. You have to trust what you see and go get it."

Check out action photos from the Panthers second day of training camp at Wofford.

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