The Nebraska Cornhuskers didn’t have the bounce-back season that people were expecting in 2019, but senior cornerback Lamar Jackson took his game to the next level. During his final season of college football, he put on a show for scouts across the country.
Jackson finished his senior year with 40 total tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Those are career-high marks for each statistic.
Although the Cornhuskers weren’t bowl eligible this past season, Jackson didn’t have time to relax once the regular season ended. He had to compete at the Senior Bowl and showcase his skillset at the NFL Combine.
We sat down with Jackson to discuss his time with the Cornhuskers, future of his alma mater and preparation for the draft. Let’s get this interview started.
The Spun: Over the past few months you’ve had the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and a bunch of meetings with coaches. How has this whole experience been for you?
Lamar Jackson: Before the pandemic, I’d pretty much just describe this experience as normal – as expected. I feel like throughout my season, I prepared myself for the draft process and set myself up in a good position. Once I got to the Senior Bowl, I had the NFL Combine shortly after season, so I had stuff to look forward to right away. Even though we didn’t make a bowl game, after the season I had to prepare and get ready for these nice big steps like the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. For the most part, this experience went as expected. I felt like I set myself up in a good position. My approach was just to cross things off the box step by step. Senior Bowl, check, NFL Combine, check. Each time I go somewhere and put myself on display, I want to play to the best of my ability.
The Spun: What was the biggest reason for your increase in production during your senior season?
LJ: Honestly, just watching guys fall short of their goal. When you’re somewhere in a program, most Division I athletes plan on playing in the NFL. Most guys really just expect to play in the NFL, especially when you’re a starter in the Big Ten. Once I had the experience to watch guys actually fall short – guys that I looked up to and thought they would have no problem getting drafted – it woke me up a little bit more and made me realize that what I thought I was doing and what I accomplished thus far wasn’t enough. I wanted to make sure I was locked in all year. The production really just came with maturity and being aware the situation was bigger. I had to compete against everybody in the country, you know what I’m saying? So, I just took it all in and kind of just accepted everything for what it was and just did more.
The Spun: What was the biggest difference between playing for Mike Riley to Scott Frost?
LJ: With Coach Riley, he pretty much got me to Nebraska with his genuine love. Through a couple of conversations, you get the vibe that he truly meant what he was saying to you and he cared about you and your future – all that good stuff. When you’re a young kid, you want to go somewhere where they’re going to take care of you, especially when you’re going from California to Nebraska. Coach Riley is definitely a player’ coach. He always looks out for his guys. When it comes to Coach Frost, it feels a little bit different because he’s younger. Most young guys want a cool coach and somebody that could relate to them. Coach Frost didn’t care about the little things. He let us practice with music on and he made things a lot more comfortable. The one thing he truly cared about was the football aspect. If you did everything you needed to do in the classroom and community, he’ll let the little things go. He cares about winning. He’ll get the best out of his guys, so I respect him for his attitude. I’d say Coach Riley is a players’ coach that cares about his individuals and Coach Frost is a winner.
The Spun: Scott Frost is pretty jacked. How many of Nebraska’s players can he out-lift?
LJ: I don’t know about out-lift, but if he were to step in the weight room and do a workout, he’ll be able to hang with us. I wouldn’t say he could do it all week without being sore or popping a hamstring, but he can definitely throw some weight around for a couple of days.
The Spun: Adrian Martinez had some tough moments as a sophomore. How confident are you in him and the rest of the Cornhuskers heading into next season?
LJ: In all honesty, I’m 110 percent confident in Adrian. When it comes to the team though, I wouldn’t say that. It’s one of things that once you’re a part of a program, you know the type of guys they have in the locker room and the characters they got. For example, we’re not Ohio State or Alabama. We’re not a team that’s been winning and has its culture locked in. And I feel like when you take football away from a team, it’s definitely a setback. Since there are no spring practices, there is just a lot of unknown right now when it comes to the team. They needed the spring to develop their younger guys and build off last season. But when it comes to Adrian leading the team, I got all faith in him. I feel like he has all the tools. He just finished his sophomore year; he’s going to become more consistent and more diligent when it comes to his work ethic. I expect him to elevate his game next season.
— Lamar Jackson (@theroyal_21) February 29, 2020
The Spun: What area of your game are you trying to work on diligently leading up to the draft?
LJ: I’m about to lock in on my diet and go pescatarian and have a leaner diet because I want to be sure that I’m ready once offseason workouts begin. I want to be durable in the NFL, and I know if teams can’t use you then you’re worthless. I want to make sure I can compete in every drill and every practice. I want to be in the best shape of my life because when I’m inconsistent, it’s usually because I was tired. Every time I take a rep in the NFL, I want to make sure I’m using perfect technique.
The Spun: What is the NFL getting in Lamar Jackson?
LJ: Well, I’d say the NFL is getting that next-level gem. I think I’m a diamond in the rough, and I feel like I’m going to be in the NFL for a reason. Everything I’ve done so far is nowhere near where I’m going to be in a few years. My best football is definitely in front of me. They’re going to get somebody who’s going out there to compete each and every play. I just love playing football and I want to win championships.
Among CBs at the NFL combine, here's who allowed the lowest completion percentage in coverage in 2019
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) February 26, 2020
Nebraska’s defense will have a major hole to fill in its secondary now that Jackson is moving on. This past season, quarterbacks that targeted him only completed 37.8 percent of their pass attempts.
In addition to having great tape, Jackson also tested well in front of scouts. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and posted a 36.5-inch vertical during the combine.
Cornhuskers fans will find out where Jackson will begin his NFL career later this month.