Veteran defensive back Theo Jackson has emerged — seemingly out of nowhere — as maybe Tennessee’s best defensive player this season. It began against Bowling Green and really never stopped. Jackson has been all over the field for Tim Banks, stuffing the statsheet from his new STAR position.
However, Jackson was forced to miss last week’s game against South Carolina after suffering an injury against Missouri. That forced Alabama transfer Brandon Turnage into action in his place, and Turnage responded by taking home SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He was credited with 14 total tackles, seven solo and seven assisted.
Turnage joined the program late in the offseason and has been working to learn the system. The Volunteers badly needed the depth, as evidenced on Saturday. Thrown into a big role in a conference game, Turnage could use all the help he could get.
And he got plenty from the man he was replacing for the day.
“One of the guys I think is one of the unsung heroes — Theo Jackson knew he wasn’t going to play or there was a good chance he wasn’t — he worked with Brandon every day and every night,” Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said on Tuesday. “Watched film with him and really helped prep him. That’s when you know you have good teamwork and you have a brotherhood on your team because Theo knew how much we were going to need him this game if he didn’t play. I have to give Theo a lot of credit.”
That’s just another way Jackson, now a senior, has become a leader on this team. You hear a lot about culture within the program, but it’s hard to see as an outsider. Here’s a good example that Jean-Mary illustrated.
Josh Heupel said on Monday that he believed four players that missed the South Carolina game would be able to return for the Ole Miss matchup on Saturday night. That would include Jackson, who has 37 tackles and five passes defensed to his credit so far this year. With Lane Kiffin’s rebels in town, Tennessee is going to need all the help they can get defensively.