John Denton's Knights Insider: Toby Jackson Looks Like Keeper

April 10, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF defensive end Toby Jackson shed his blocker with ease, snuffed out the play perfectly and came down for a hit that resonated throughout Bright House Networks Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

But that's where the play took a different twist and once again showed Jackson that things are a little different at the Division I level as opposed to Navarro Junior College in Texas.

Ronnie Weaver, the tailback that Jackson slammed into on the play, bounced off and kept on running for a minimal game. Jackson was lauded by UCF's coaches for making the right read and a big hit, but he was yelled at for not wrapping up and properly finishing off the play.

As Jackson has said, adjusting to football at this level is a process.

``In JUCO I could just use my raw ability and beat people, but up here if you don't have technique then your raw ability is nothing,'' Jackson said. ``It's hard getting that technique sometimes and I've really been working on getting that down this spring.''

Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 259-pound defensive end, has shown flashes this spring of why he was one of the most coveted defensive ends coming out of junior college. With his quickness off the ball, power at the point of attack and speed off the edge, Jackson's talent already has UCF's coaches salivating at his prospects for the fall. Jackson missed some practice time with a badly sprained ankle, but he's back on the field now showing his new teammates and coaches what he can do.

``He has all of the skills that you are looking for with a guy like him,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said recently. ``Now, it's just about him learning the defense, being physical and getting out there on the field.''

UCF wrapped up its 11th of 15 practices on Saturday, scrimmaging for almost 90 minutes inside Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights will practice Tuesday and Thursday and hold a walk-through session on Friday leading up to Saturday's Black and Gold Spring Game. The intrasquad scrimmage begins at 2 p.m.

Jackson, a native of Griffin, Ga., comes to UCF with some big shoes to fill following the loss of defensive end Bruce Miller, the all-time sacks leader in school history. But Jackson comes with a good pedigree of his own after being named the Most Valuable Player of the JUCO National Championship Game, a three-sack performance witnessed by UCF Defensive Coordinator John Skladany.

Jackson also originally committed to the University of Georgia out of high school, but ended up in junior college after not qualifying academically. He was heavily pursued by several schools, but ultimately chose UCF because of the Knights' attacking defensive scheme. He feels that because of his speed off the edge that he can have success similar to what defensive ends Miller (8.5 sacks), Darius Nall (8.5 sacks) and Troy Davis (5.5 sacks) did last season.

``I don't think of there being pressure on me. I know that I was a big-time prospect or whatever, but that really doesn't mean anything to me,'' Jackson said. ``I just want to come in here and do my job and help UCF win another championship.

``It's such a great system for defensive ends here,'' Jackson continued. ``Coach (Jim) Panagos is a great coach, one the best teachers that I've ever had. He's so intense and passionate and focuses on the little things. I think since I've been here I've already become a much better player.''

As Jackson was reminded on Saturday by Weaver's hard-running style, players are bigger, strong and faster at this level of football. He said adjusting to the pace of UCF's practices has also been an adjustment. And facing offensive linemen who seemingly all bench press at least 500 pounds has also been something new to get used to.

``It's a faster game. Guys aren't that much bigger, but they are a lot stronger. I played against some really big guys in JUCO, but they weren't nearly as quick and strong as the guys here at UCF,'' Jackson said. ``It's much faster and the tempo is so upbeat here. Everything moves fast and there's really no downtime (in practice) unless you're on water break. I'm not going to say that it's been hard, but it's certainly not easy.''

Jackson, whose brother, Kentorius Jackson, will join him on the UCF football team in the fall as a defensive back, thinks that UCF's defense can once again be the best in Conference USA if not in the nation. He said he doesn't have a number of sacks set yet as a goal for next season, but he's certain he will make a big impact on the Knights.

``I just want to get out there and play hard and if I do that the sacks will come,'' Jackson said. ``I don't have a number or goal in mind yet, but I'm just focused on learning the defense and getting myself right. If I do that the success is going to come for me.''


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.