Oliver Thomas, Contributor
Seven defensive backs intercepted multiple passes during the 2018 NFL preseason.
J.C. Jackson was one of them.
The undrafted rookie picked off quarterback Kyle Lauletta twice in last August’s finale at MetLife Stadium. And if doing so didn’t change the New England Patriots’ plans for which side of the aisle Jackson would land on, it solidified them.
Jackson would soon become the next rookie free agent on New England’s active roster.
It is a streak that dates back 15 season openers.
“I hold myself to a high standard,” Jackson told reporters following Saturday’s session of training camp, via Patriots.com.
Now 23 years old, Jackson has his rookie season in the rearview. He appeared in 16 games for the Patriots from September into February, starting six of the final eight. He ranked fifth in the league in forced incompletion rate over that span, according to Pro Football Focus, as well as first in passer rating allowed.
“Just a steady grinder, one day at a time, just trying to get better,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Jackson late last campaign. “If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. But his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day – I mean, that’s really how you improve.”
New England had guaranteed Jackson $60,000 between his signing bonus and base salary.
That April offer gave way to 27 tackles, a handful of pass breakups and an additional three picks up through Super Bowl LIII.
“Coming here, no matter where you come from, no matter what school you went to, no matter what round you went in the draft, you’ve just got to come here and work,” Jackson said. “That’s what the coaches are looking for.”
McCourty holds a cap number of $4.25 million this year, while Gilmore’s restructured number stands at $9.17 million. As for Jackson, he is locked in for a base salary of $570,000.
The former Florida, Riverside Community College and Maryland corner is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after 2020.
But there are a lot of hitches, slants, digs, posts, flags, flats and go routes to cover between now and then.
“I mean, each year, you’ve still got to work your ass off and try to make the roster,” said Jackson. “No matter what I did last year, it’s about what I do this year.”
And Jackson has company. New England’s depth chart also carries 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson, 2019 second-rounder Joejuan Williams, tendered nickelback Jonathan Jones, plus core special-teamer Keion Crossen and rookies Ken Webster and D’Angelo Ross.
“We all hold each other accountable,” added Jackson. “Like I said, you’ve just got to come out here and compete. Each day you’ve got to grind it out, make plays, improve every day.”
Jackson continues his climb as an undrafted free agent. That process didn’t end when he turned in his No. 65 jersey for No. 34 and eventually No. 27. It didn’t end against the New York Giants last August.
It didn’t end when Jackson’s rookie season did.
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