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Linebacker D'Marco Jackson makes presence felt for New Orleans Saints on special teams

'You've got to know where to put your focus and time in'

Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 14 of the 2023 NFL season.
Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 14 of the 2023 NFL season.

D'Marco Jackson simply flashed back to his youth.

When the New Orleans Saints' second-year linebacker saw the loose football in front of him after fellow linebacker Nephi Sewell forced a fumble from Carolina punter Johnny Hekker – Sewell smothered the ball before Hekker even had a chance to punt it – Jackson calmly scooped and scored a touchdown on an 8-yard return, giving the Saints a 14-3 lead in the second quarter en route to a 28-6 victory.

"I just knew it was six," Jackson said, smiling. "We practice that – pick and roll – every single day in practice, when we're warming up going through the cycles. So it was really just natural to just grab and go.

"It's natural. It's a natural feeling. Little league days."

Then, and through high school, Jackson also played running back. He exclusively began working at linebacker in college at Appalachian State, the position at which the Saints made him their fifth-round pick in 2022.

But for New Orleans, 6-7 entering Sunday's game against the Giants (5-8) in the Caesars Superdome, it was the second time this season that Jackson has shown his hands skills.

In the second game this season – the first time the Saints played Carolina, in Charlotte, N.C. – Jackson was on the "hands" team to receive the onside kick attempt by the Panthers after Carolina pulled to within 20-17 with 1:16 left. He cleanly fielded the kick and the Saints ran out the clock to finish the game.

"I think D'Marco is probably the nicest surprise for me as a special team coach this season," Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said. "I really liked D'Marco coming out as a rookie, really liked his college film on special teams.

"Obviously, he had the setback and missed last year, (but) in OTAs and training camp and all of that, you saw these flashes of a guy that we really thought could be that four-core player (kickoff returns and cover, punt returns and cover) that we saw coming out, the vision that we saw coming out. He's really lived up to that, to his credit. He's really been a well-rounded player.

"We use him in a lot of different aspects – I think he's in the top three on the team in special teams reps. We use him in a bunch of different areas – protection, blocking, covering. He's had a number of tackles. He's really brought a nice juice to that unit. He's a guy that really just grinds, keeps his mouth shut, works hard, does his job. He has been very efficient. He has become a very well-rounded special teams linebacker, like some of the guys we've had around here in the past."

Jackson has two special team tackles and five assists to go along with his fumble recovery.

"He's a young player that's a really good athlete," Coach Dennis Allen said. "He works really hard. He takes it seriously, so every day he comes in and he's got a plan to try to work to get better in everything that he does. And I've seen him improve both as a special teams player and I've seen him improve on defense."

But special teams is where Jackson has left his impression this season, and he credits his focus on the task at hand with the success.

"The secret is really just being where your feet are in practice, do everything the coaches ask you and try to be focused in when watching film on the details of footwork, to the assignment you've got," he said. "Really, just knowing your place on the field and your role for that call, and executing it to the best of your ability.

"When it comes to breaking down the film, you've got to know where to put your focus and time in. Just knowing your role; making sure you know your assignment, not spending too much time on defense if you know you've got more of a special teams role in this game. So for me, that's how I break it down."

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