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Donte Jackson quickly became an elder in Panthers locker room

Donte Jackson

CHARLOTTE — Things happen fast in the NFL, especially when you're as fast as Donte Jackson.

Still, it's a little odd for him to look around the cornerbacks room, and realize he's the old guy at 25.

After the Panthers cut to a 53-man roster, Jackson was the only corner on the roster with an NFL start under his belt.

With A.J. Bouye suspended for the first two games and veteran Rashaan Melvin released Tuesday, he's now cast in the mentor role, at least for the first couple of weeks.

Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, last year's seventh-round pick, played in 10 games in 2020. Otherwise, it's a couple of rookies in Jaycee Horn and Keith Taylor.

"I'm still learning in this league; I'm still experiencing things," Jackson said when asked about his sudden elder status. "Whatever you can do, you try to do, but the best thing that I want to do for the guys is go hard every day, and give them somebody who's older to look at who's actually doing everything he's telling them to do.

"That's what I'm trying to do, is focus on being a guy who leads by example."

It's an unusual role for a fourth-year player, but Jackson has been through a lot.

For starters, he's one of a dwindling number of players on this roster who predate head coach Matt Rhule.

When they cut to 53, only 13 players remained who joined the team prior to 2020 ( JJ Jansen, Shaq Thompson, Christian McCaffrey, Taylor Moton, DJ Moore, Jackson, Marquis Haynes Sr., Ian Thomas, Jermaine Carter, Brian Burns, Dennis Daley, Matt Paradis, and Brandon Zylstra).

Jackson had to endure a difficult 2020 season while learning a new coaching staff, when he was plagued by a persistent toe issue. He also had to be a stabilizing force for a secondary made up of kids and castoffs from other places, but he continued to play well, with a team-high three interceptions last year. He has 10 total picks in three seasons (the most of any player in his draft class), and with the way the Panthers have forced turnovers this preseason, he could add to that count.

Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson, Jermaine Carter

Making plays in the past gives him a certain gravity around here, but he said he draws energy from being around players even younger than he is — because of the way they approach the work.

"Just eagerness," he replied when asked about the qualities his three running-mates share. "Keith is a guy who is eager to learn. Keith asks probably a hundred questions a day. Huge fan of Jaycee Horn, and the aggression. He's another that just wants to learn everything. His energy is contagious. He's just a football guy. Same I can say about Stantley.

"Just football guys, that's the best thing to have, a group of guys who love the game first and want to compete first, before the actual position comes in. That's what our group is made of, and that's what I am, is a football guy. So you get a group of those guys, whatever you need them to learn, whatever you need to teach them, it flows a little bit better."

And until Bouye is back in a couple of weeks, it's part of Jackson's job to help teach them.

He's also doing it while trying to keep tabs on relatives displaced by Hurricane Ida, which smashed into the Louisiana coast earlier this week. Jackson said his family was able to evacuate New Orleans, but said he's had "news on every TV" this week while calling and texting trying to stay updated on his hometown, and that he was "more antsy now than when I lived there."

"I'm a Katrina baby, so it definitely hit home," he said of the 2005 storm that ravaged New Orleans. "You try to keep your mind from thinking about it. Obviously all my people are (evacuated), but there's still a special part of your heart for the people who can't get out or are less fortunate, and they have to stay. You sit back and think about those people, the ones who don't have the means to get away from the storm. That's the people I think about."

See pictures of the Panthers initial 53-man roster after moves were made on Tuesday.

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