Jackson has had his share of problems since unexpectedly spurning LSU for Knoxville two-and-a-half years ago, but his presence this fall is essential to keeping a young, beleaguered program still lacking veteran depth or leadership in its second season under coach Derek Dooley: He's a former five-star recruit with two seasons under his belt as a starter, he's just hitting the prime of his college career as a rising junior, and he's the only relatively hyped member of the much-hyped recruiting class Lane Kiffin lured to Knoxville in 2009 who's even made it that far. He was also the only Tennessee player voted All-SEC in 2010 — first or second team — by league coaches. All told, Jackson is the best player on the team, and he could have been gone for good.
Specifically, his return helps shore up a secondary that qualifies as the strongest unit on the depth chart thanks to four other vets — juniors Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner, redshirt sophomore Eric Gordon and 23-year-old sophomore Brent Brewer — with regular starting experience. The rest of the defense? As of right now, the only returning starter at linebacker is out for at least part of the season with a fractured ankle and two of the few defensive linemen with any experience whatsoever are likely finished as Vols as a result of serial Achilles tendon injuries and undisclosed violations of team rules, respectively. So yeah, they still need all the help they can get.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
- Janzen Jackson