<strong>July 11, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.chargers.com/news/headline_detail.cfm?news_key=2191">Chargers.com</a>
When NFL writers began hammering out their mock drafts early this spring, many of them predicted that the Chargers would select a wide receiver with one of their two first round picks. General Manager A.J. Smith waited until round two to snag another weapon for quarterback Drew Brees, but the Chargers are certain that their patience will pay off.
After using his first two picks to improve the defensive front seven, Smith took wide receiver Vincent Jackson with the 61st overall selection in April's draft, and head coach Marty Schottenheimer likes what he's seen in former Northern Colorado star.
"He's a terrific athlete and catches the ball very well," Schottenheimer said. "He has miles and miles to go in understanding what the National Football League tempo is like, but he's a physical specimen and is going to be a tremendous football player."
At 6-5, 241 pounds, Jackson's size is the first thing that stands out on the field. He's built like a tight end but has the speed to run with the game's best cornerbacks. At the NFL combine prior to the draft, Jackson posted an impressive time of 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
As a senior in college, Jackson abused Division I-AA defensive backs to the tune of 1,382 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, and he's anxious to put his big frame to use at the next level.
"There's no doubt that my size is going to help me in this league," Jackson said. "Particularly in the red zone, I think I can pose some mismatches. As a bigger receiver, I can also be an asset in the running game by getting out and blocking safeties. I'm just ready to get to work and find my place."
During his first offseason program, Jackson was fortunate to have two helpful tutors by his side. Chargers wide receivers coach James Lofton enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as a player and has already been a big asset to Jackson. Keenan McCardell, a 14-year NFL veteran, has also given his two cents to the young pass catcher.
"Coach Lofton is incredible," Jackson said. "He understands the game, having played it for so long. He really is a players coach, and he's taken his time to help me. Keenan is just a savvy vet. He knows all the little things that you might not see. To have him sitting with me in the meetings and pointing things out on film, that makes my learning curve faster. I'm lucky to have both (Lofton and McCardell) around."
Jackson is pleased with the progress he made during the Chargers' Offeason Coaching Sessions and mini-camps. He spent time digesting offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system and focusing on fundamentals.
"I'm becoming a more disciplined receiver, and I'm picking up the offense," Jackson said. "It's totally different from what we ran in college. Fortunately, the coaches are gave me a lot of reps. They're giving me an opportunity to pick it all up, and things are starting to click. Towards the end of the OCS's, I didn't have to think as much, which makes things a lot easier."
The jump from the Great West Conference to the AFC West will be quite a test for Jackson, but his new quarterback is anxious to watch his new target develop.
"Initially, you come in and those corners are a little bigger, a lot faster, and a lot stronger, so the adjustment is that you have to be so sound in your fundamentals," Brees said. "That's something that he's still learning, but if you want to talk about raw talent and ability to catch the ball and to go up and get it, you can see it in his eyes. He wants to be good, so he's going to be."
Recent history has proven that receivers from small schools can hit it big in the NFL. Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens attended I-AA Tennessee-Chattanooga prior to his rise to NFL dominance. In 1996, Schottenheimer's Kansas City Chiefs drafted Joe Horn out of Mississippi's Itawamba Junior College. Horn has since earned four trips to the Pro Bowl as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
"We're all here now. We're all professionals," Jackson said. "I don't know where half these guys played in college, and at this point, that really doesn't matter anymore. There are great stories from everywhere with guys that go big schools and little schools. Once you've reached this level, it's just a matter of what you do with your opportunity. I'm happy to have my chance, and I promise I'm going to make the most of it."