Throughout his Pitt career, Buddy Jackson played sparingly in more games with each passing season. He could never quite crack the starting lineup. That was until the next to the last game of his senior season at West Virginia.
"A lot of scouts asked me (why he didn't start more)," Jackson said. "I just told them it's all about opportunity. I told them about West Virginia, and how I had my first start and I led the team in tackles that game. That's where it goes. As soon as I got my shot to start, I took advantage of it. They were all impressed with my numbers out there."
That led Jackson taking part in Pitt's pro day, where he worked out for a handful of NFL scouts—much of the league represented in some form. The questions were sure to come out about why Jackson didn't play more, or start more in his Pitt career. However, Jackson stole the show with an 11-9 in the broad jump. Had he recorded an 11-9 at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, it would have set a new Combine record. He might not have the amount of college football playing experience that scouts look for, but with his performance on Monday, Jackson has worked his name into the conversation with some NFL scouts.
"I've heard in the broad jump, I jumped an 11-9," Jackson said. "The vert, I jumped a 40 even. Bench, I was really happy about my bench. I did 15 reps (of 225). When I started training, I did eight. In my short shuttle, I did a 4.0. Some teams have me down with the 40; some teams have me with a 4.31 or 4.37. I ran a 4.28 in training, and I have 4.3 flats on film. I'm a little bit disappointed with that."
He did say even in training for the broad jump, that he set his goal at 11-5, which is the NFL Combine record. Jackson was surprised that he surpassed that goal on his first try.
"That was definitely a personal best," Jackson said with a laugh. "I jumped an 11-4 in training. My goal was 11-5, which is an all-time Combine record and Pro Day record. Today, I couldn't believe I got out that far. I thought it was 11-8, but I saw a team had 11-9. A few of them were saying 11-8, a few were saying 11-9. I did it twice. I did 11-7 the first jump, 11-8 the second jump and 11-9."
Jackson did add later that the 40 range may have even dipped below the 4.3 range, according to some scouts.
"I actually heard a team had me down for 4.26," Jackson said. "I'm not sure what team, but someone told me they had me down for 4.26. I heard 4.3 more than any. I ran it twice. I had two runs."
One positive, despite not being a regular starter, Jackson did see his playing time go up each year. After redshirting in his true freshman year of 2007, he played in five games in 2008, nine games in 2009, then all 13 in 2010. That's when his presence on special teams as a gunner on punt returns was key. He played in all 13 games, finished with six tackles, and Pitt's punt coverage team yielded just 5.1 yards a punt return.
Then came a new coaching staff, with a new chance to maybe fit in a different role. Jackson impressed the coaches enough to earn the Conway Award among all defensive players—given to the player who shows the most improvement during spring drills. That led him to a position battle with Antwuan Reed for a starting spot at corner. Even though Jackson lost out on it, he still served in some of Pitt's nickel and dime packages. It was the most significant playing time he had seen in a defensive back role. Once again, he played heavily on many of Pitt's special teams.
But as he reflects on his Pitt career, is there anything he could have done differently to get himself in the starting lineup earlier? He checked in at 6-0 and a quarter, 187 pounds—gaining ten pounds of muscle in the two months since his final collegiate game. He has the size, the speed and other intangibles that would satisfy any coach. Is there any reason why he didn't get on the field sooner?
"Early on when I was a freshman, I was a little bit immature," Jackson said. "I feel my last three years, I came on strong. I just gave myself the best opportunity. For whatever reason, things just weren't swinging my way. When it came to starting, I played a lot with nickel (coverages). I feel like I made plays on special teams. I was a two-year starter on all four phases of special teams. I feel like I did well, especially on special teams and when I got in on defense."
Jackson finished off his senior season playing in all 13 games, a career-high 34 tackles. The highlight of his senior season is arguably a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game against Utah. After going through some of the combine drills on Monday, Jackson is getting used to the idea that he might be able to latch on to an NFL roster in some sort of special teams role.
"Special teams, it doesn't matter; just give me an opportunity," Jackson said. "I'll cover kickoffs, I'll block on returns, I'll return kicks. I showed them my versatility. I would love to go out there and be someone's gunner."