Austin Jackson: Allowing Pressure?

From a historically bad 2019 season, the 2020 Miami Dolphins’ offensive line made considerable strides towards improvement, nevertheless question marks remain. One particular uncertainty is that of the position of Austin Jackson. Despite what can only be regarded as a trying season, having been asked to be the starter from the outset, Jackson appears to have his position locked down heading into 2021, with there being no heir apparent at the position. If this is true, it is Jackson who needs to make the biggest jump in his second year to live up to the expectations of the 18th overall selection.

Coming out of the 2020 draft we knew that Jackson was a very raw prospect. Aged only 20 he was a great athlete with all the physical traits required, but needed to refine his technique to make it in the NFL. Not to mention the obvious challenges that all rookies faced last season, that have been repeated endlessly, it would be unfair to think that those concerns had just gone away and he was NFL ready week one. Contrast this with the analysis of Liam Eichenberg, the Notre Dame, NFL ready tackle who hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 33 games; the positions of the two are very different indeed.

PFF ranked Jackson 78th out of 83 qualifying tackles, a rating is not necessarily a true reflection of his play. Jackson started 13 games, missing three games with a foot injury allowing 4 sacks. In fact 18 tackles allowed more sacks including Andrew Thomas, who the Dolphins were at a point rumored to be trading up for (farcical I know) yielding 10 sacks, whilst Mekhi Becton allowed 7 with the Jets. However, Jackson did allow a further 40 QB pressures, whilst his run blocking was nothing to write home about either, which was ranked 76th among 83 qualifying tackles. Jackson’s performance becomes more open to question following the relatively successful rookie campaigns of Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt, who were both selected after Jackson. From week 12 onward, Hunt was the fifth best right tackle in the league with a PFF grade of 76.4.

Jackson’s worst performances unsurprisingly coincided with the offenses worst games, the matchup with the Broncos immediately comes to mind. Looking back it is almost painful to watch, as time after time Bradley Chubb dominated the rookie. There were several instances whereby Jackson would be beaten without actually ever getting his hands on the rusher, with Chubb merely running round him untouched. Coming into his second year, Jackson needs to work on his reactions; at times it seems like he focuses too much on where he is supposed to be blocking according to the playbook, rather than anticipating where the pressure is coming from in real time. Whilst all of this may seem like an indictment of Jackson, this is nothing that cannot be resolved with more and more reps. Let us not forget that tackle is one of the toughest positions to play as a rookie in a normal season, it is evident that at present the game is merely moving too quick for Jackson.

There were times throughout the season where it was a benefit that Tua is left handed, meaning that the left side was not his blindside.

Jackson appeared to play his best football when there was not as much space around him, in essence when he had tight ends blocking alongside him, making him more akin to a guard rather than a tackle. However, with Solomon Kindley the favorite to lock down the left guard position, whilst Robert Hunt has also moved from tackle to guard. It is expected that Hunt’s ceiling is much higher playing as a potential pro-bowl guard, so playing Jackson on the interior may not be an option. This is where the versatility instilled within this roster can be extremely beneficial and could potentially be season saving if things dont go to plan. If Jackson continues to struggle, the Dolphins do have the fallback option, if needed to shift Eichenberg to LT and then Hunt/Davis/Fluker or even Eluemunor back out to RT and then play Jackson and Kindley at guard. It is hoped that Jackson’s performances improve so that such contingency options are not required. So what is Jackson doing to improve?

“There’s a lot of new things, new adjustments from college to the pros, but one little thing I try to live by is I try not to make the same mistake twice. So whenever I come into a situation, make sure I do what I’ve got to do to get past it and get better, and make sure I’m getting better every single day.

The game slows down the longer you play. I think the first year, you learn a lot. The second year, you kind of handle more. So I would say I would expect to get a lot better next year, and then the year after that and then the year after that.”

Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson has been working on all aspects of his play throughout the offseason. One particular point of emphasis he states is in his knee bend and being able to get lower giving him more flexibility. Coming into his second year he acknowledges that he has seen strides in his development as a result of having a years playing experience under his belt. With the knowledge he has learnt from a trying rookie season, he is using that to put into his training, whilst refining his approach and technique to be consistent in his performances week in week out.

Whilst this tweet may not have aged well since Jackson was drafted, it is hoped that Jackson will be able to assert more dominance in his matchups in 2021 like he did for the Trojans.

Conclusion

While it may be Tua the highlighted player in the national media as being the Dolphins player under the most pressure to perform, it is the development and performance of Austin Jackson that will be just as vital to this offense. 2020 was not a disaster of a season for Jackson, but was very much below par of the 18th overall selection and pressure is mounting to show a quick improvement. Once again this article is by no means an indictment on Jackson or a call to move on. There is no doubt about it he is a stand out guy, an excellent character off the field and most importantly a team guy. He has everything Brian Flores and Chris Grier could want off the field, the question is can he dominate on it? Over the past three drafts whilst Brian Flores has been at the helm, the Dolphins have drafted 7 offensive linemen, signing 4 free agents this season alone on the line. Flores and Grier seem like men possessed to fix the holes within the line. Be in no doubt, Jackson will be under the microscope this season to improve, or risk looking over his shoulder next offseason for the next experiment on the line. Fins Up!

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