Second-year Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson may have given Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster some extra motivation for Sunday’s game.
New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson had quite the rookie season.
After going undrafted coming out of the University of Maryland, he bulldozed his way into the regular rotation at a position of relative depth and strength for the Pats, who’d go on to win Super Bowl 53 with him on the game-day roster. The 23-year-old played so well along the way, he actually graded out as ProFootballFocus’ top cornerback in terms of quarterback passer rating allowed by the end of 2018.
Jackson figures to again be a major part of the Patriots’ plans this season as well, forming a formidable starting trio alongside Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty at corner. And while he’s already done more than enough in one season of play to turn heads and make football fans notice him, perhaps he’s still learning when it’s better to not be noticed at times… particularly when it comes to dealing with the media.
According to WEEI’s Ryan Hannable, Jackson may have inadvertently provided New England’s Week 1 opponent – the Pittsburgh Steelers – with some juicy bulletin-board fodder during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Thursday.
Asked how much confidence he had going into his sophomore season after getting quality reps against the NFL’s best receivers in 2018, Jackson asked who, specifically, the reporter was referring to. When the reporter named third-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jackson reportedly rolled his eyes.
Sensing a potential opening in the usually locked-down Patriots locker room, members of the media pressed Jackson further, eventually asking him outright if he didn’t believe that Smith-Schuster was one of the best receivers in the league. Here was his exact response:
“In my opinion, I don’t think so. There’s a lot of good receivers in the NFL. I mean, he’s a great receiver. I’m not saying that. He’s a good football player. … He’s physical. He’s a good route runner and he has strong hands. He makes a lot of plays on the ball.”
While no one can blame Jackson for being honest in his assessment, perhaps he should have reserved his judgment for a safer, less-public place to voice his true feelings. Yes, he ended up complimenting Smith-Schuster by the end of his response and acknowledging that he’s “a good football player,” but the initial answer he gave the reporter speaks volumes about his inner opinion on the speedy Pittsburgh receiver.
The Patriots are famous for not providing opposing teams or players with any extra added motivation through perceived slights or bulletin-board material. It’s a policy that comes straight from the top in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and trickles all the way down through every member of the organization. Whatever Belichick or Brady truly think of their contemporaries, they never let the media know; instead, they go to great lengths to superficially butter up their opponents and praise them extravagantly.
No one really buys these glowing endorsements as fact, but the message is still easy to decipher: the Patriots talk up their foes leading up to the game, then absolutely embarrass them during the actual game itself. It’s a philosophy that has undeniably served them fairly well over the past two decades, and one they’ll presumably continue to employ for the foreseeable future.
Someone needs to make sure Jackson has read up on that memo, though.
Whatever he thinks of JuJu Smith-Schuster – or on a macro level, whatever the Patriots think of the Steelers – doesn’t need to be aired to the media just a couple days before the season opener. In doing exactly that, Jackson may have given Smith-Schuster and the Steelers even more motivation to come out swinging on Sunday night.