Donte Jackson starting new year on the right foot

Donte Jackson

CHARLOTTE — Donte Jackson played well late last season, or as well as he could with a painful toe injury and a limited cast around him in the secondary.

Now, the toe is better, and the help definitely is, which is why the Panthers cornerback is all smiles.

Jackson said Wednesday he's encouraged by his own progress and everything around him, on what he hopes is a defense that builds on last year.

"We can be dominant, man," Jackson said. "We can be dominant."

Much of that enthusiasm is based on adding pass-rusher Haason Reddick and first-round cornerback Jaycee Horn, along with veteran corner A.J. Bouye. But Jackson himself should be part of that equation as well, as he made strides last season while dealing with the injury.

Donte Jackson, A.J. Bouye

He didn't need surgery this offseason, and said with rehab and rest he's feeling "great." He didn't want to talk much about the injury, but laughed and agreed to when asked: "I was not really wanting to talk about a toe."

Given last year's issues, that's understandable. He played in 14 games, but was only available for 599 snaps (57 percent of the team's total).

And when he was out there, he was often on an island, as their most accomplished corner surrounded by journeymen and players even younger than he is (still just 25).

But he also understands he has to get better himself beyond the physical condition, and continue the work he put in. When coach Matt Rhule came in last year, Jackson's second-round draft status didn't matter, so there was a matter of proving himself to new coaches.

"I wouldn't say I had to prove myself, not to anybody; I had to prove myself to me," Jackson said. "That's one thing coach Rhule and this staff is big on; they know what kind of player I was from the start, when they became the Panthers coaching staff. So the trust and the belief and the confidence in me was always there. 

"But you know, injuries and stuff happen, and stuff you've got to fight through, but I think my game rose a lot last year. Just from a leader standpoint, and an understanding football, everything slowing down for me standpoint. 

"And there's more to come."

That would be beneficial, to the team and to Jackson himself. He's entering the final year of his rookie deal, but said that wasn't on his mind. What is on his mind is working to get better, and his coaches see that.

Veteran defensive coordinator Phil Snow said the staff has emphasized to Jackson that the more detailed he became in his work, the better off he'll be.

"Donte knows that the more consistent he gets ... his talent, his movement skills, I don't know that there's much better in all of football," Snow said. "So the more consistent he gets, the more big plays. He has exceptional ball skills and exceptional movement. So the more consistent he gets, I think it's the limit.

"You've got to understand who you are. We're really direct with our players, what they need to get better at. I think when things come real easy to you, you get complacent a little bit, we all do. That's kind of how football is with him. He understands that, and I think he trusts us, So everything's going well with him."

Snow did a little extrapolation, and said that if Jackson could play a full dose of snaps, he could reasonably build on last year's three interceptions.

Toward that end, Jackson rattled off a list of things he knows he needs to improve on.

"Oh definitely, my detail and my craft," he said. "Being more on myself about my craft, and my feet and my hands and my eyes. Just being more on myself, coaching myself on my mistakes before coach Snow can even come and tell me anything.

"I'm not trying to make it about myself, I'm about the whole group striving and being successful."

Jackson said he loves the group, calling Bouye the "ultimate pro" and that Horn "looks as advertised."

"We have a group, not only are we fighting hard to learn the scheme and have the scheme down pat, we're fighting hard to be consistent and work on our detail and our craft," he said. "That's one thing we're holding the group accountable for, is making sure we get our technique, our detail work in.

"I think this group can be very, very impactful."

View photos from Wednesday's OTA practice at the Atrium Health practice fields.

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