January can be a dark, dark time. For those of us who set our clocks by the college football season, it’s the equivalent of Midnight: You just sit around in your own head dwelling on the trivial, inane, and fantastic. Far too much time gets spent on the three-second sound bite….just ask Richard Sherman. With that in mind, I’m here to introduce my new offseason barometer: “The Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter”
For those that don’t remember the diminutive cornerback, here’s his official UND profile. Some of my good college buddies (BH and C-Plan to name a couple) and I grew to love P-Jack. He didn’t let the little things, like size or talent, get in the way of a great opportunity to jaw with the opposition. Few players have shown the resolve of getting burned off the line only to recover in time to make an (assumed quality) yo’ mama joke at the end of the play the way P-Jack could. He definitely put the “Fight” into “Fighting Irish” in the early 2000’s.
Of course, as that brief anecdote makes clear, the play wasn’t always worthy of the talk, which is how I feel about many of the topics that invade college football offseason. Much like P-Jack, that doesn’t stop us from talking, but is there merit to the conversation? The Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter is here to help! The way I see it (and since this is my scale, the way it is), there are five distinct categories to the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter:
Freshman P-Jack: Sadly, P-Jack saw no game action his freshman year. Deep down inside, I’ve got to imagine he was out on the practice field perfecting the insults that made him a force for years to come. However, I’m not one for conjecture. Or am I? I’ll just let that stew…much like the topics that fall into this category. On a more general level, this means I get why people are talking, but everyone’s just speculating without any real knowledge into the matter.
P-Jack Island: While “island” usually connotes a place where receivers go to die, when it came to P-Jack Island, it was more similar to an all inclusive resort with a private beach. P-Jack was the cabana boy as the gifts rained down from above. Despite giving up a horrendous play, the chatter continued. Topics in this category are the same. Lots of talk without anything to back it up.
Action Jackson: Sophomore year on P-Jack saw himself on the field a quality amount and peppered each appearance…each quarter…each snap of relevance as an audition on “American Idol.” Let those vocal chords soar for better or worse! Hey detractors, dude was playing football for the Fighting Irish. STOP HATING. In other words, some chatter’s deserved regardless of the result.
Tacklin’ Jackson: 38 of P-Jack’s 41 tackles came Junior and Senior year when he finally installed himself as the “go to” nickel back. 38 tackles may not seem like a lot (Jaylon Smith had 41 this year alone), but nobody, and I mean nobody, relished each opportunity to lay the smack down the way #15 did. During those brief moments where Jackson lay atop his defeated foe, the words were decisive and swift. These moments are worth talking about….even if some of them are just the inevitable end to folly; say after giving up a 25 yard reception.
P-Jack Pick: The rarest of the rare, it’s when the performance, the importance of the moment justifies the talk. P-Jack gave ND three of these during his career. I use the term to describe offseason topic-try in a similarly rare vein.
So, we’re all on the same page now? Good. Let me take a brief tour of some of the January topics to invade the collective ND consciousness and grade them on the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter. Keep in mind, I will not be discussing these topics at length. I’m only evaluating them on their general merit for worthiness of discussing.
1. Golson’s Return – Okay, so as it turns out, “Tommy the Closer” couldn’t convert to starter quite as we hoped. That hope was admittedly the type that would similarly put me in the same place and attractiveness universe of “The Americans” version Keri Russell, but still, coming off a National Title Game Appearance, it seemed disappointing. EG’s dismissal was a very tough blow to the program. Combine all those things together, and you can understand the anticipation around his return. Not only is it the return of the QB who went 10-1 on the way to a NTG appearance, but well….mobility. I fully endorse the expectation around his return and am excited to see what he can do. There’s a reason beyond Chuck Martin’s departure that BK will publicly announce he’s back in the play calling seat, and thy name is Everett Golson. Let’s couch our talk though in terms of a QB who didn’t put phenomenal numbers in that NTG run and is a year removed from all things ND.
Final Rating: Tacklin’ Jackson
2. Coordinator Changes – This may be the toughest single category to judge. Primarily because there are different facets that can be judged. First, for those disappointed, understand that overall this is a good sign. When other programs want your coordinators, it means you’re doing something right. Bob Diaco seemed obvious. Yes, he’s got his awkward qualities, but somehow that just makes him more endearing. His departure appeared more a matter of “when” than “if.” Young, charismatic, and with a healthy distaste of things that sap energy, other programs were bound to find him. While Martin’s departure wasn’t as obvious, this was a proven coordinator and someone who’d even shown an ability to continue BK’s success at previous stops.
In come the new guys. Mike Denbrock deserved the job. He made total sense, and really my only surprise is how long it took. However, given BK’s background and method of leadership, it’s hard to imagine that Denbrock’s appointment would move the scales at all. On the opposite side of the ball you have Brian VanGorder. BVG brings a pedigree better than most people realize, and a ‘stache as good as advertised. BVG will make Diaco seem like a chatter box, but the intrigue of a potentially more aggressive defense and utilization of more 4-3 alignments is worth discussing. BK’s already come out saying he has no expectation of abandoning the 3-4 depending on match-up, and while that could be a smoke screen, let’s take a giant, deep breath and realize coordinator changes rarely tip the scales overnight.
Final Rating: Action Jackson
3. Under Armour Deal – As I stated on the first @Downthetunnel.com video podcast, I consider apparel decisions to be very much a business decision. The truth is, this issue matters very little in terms of what it means for the program at large. Notre Dame’s higher ups have a much better idea of the (business) landscape than the casual fan can possibly have access to, and I trust in that process because I have no reason not to.
Additionally, as Evan Sharpley stated, it didn’t matter much to him when considering schools what the apparel provider was. It’s an issue that inherently seems to matter more to those of us who have to pay for the merchandise than those that get it for free. Those that get it for free though are the ones that actually impact the end product that even the merchandise driven fan cares most about. Hey, hopefully these words sound better than my redneck natty loving NASCAR aficionado voice on the podcast did. So maybe Jared (@Irishfootball11) will even take note despite the lack of CAPS LOCK.
Final Rating: P-Jack Island
4. Recruits De-Committing – This was another topic touched upon during the video podcast, but we as a collective fan base need to give up this ghost. It’s an exercise in futility to debate the relative merits of players that never even get on the field for the Irish. I get it. First off, January/February is the time when anyone can become a recruiting expert. Fan bases will always want the best players for their respective programs, but let’s all agree to stop talking about the hypothetical players.
Whether it’s an Eddie Vanderdoes, Ronald Darby, or lesser last second de-commits, the ND fans need to come to grips that 17-18 year olds kids are inherently unreliable both off the field and on. Turning your ire towards these guys doesn’t make it better, and I’m quite frankly tired of it. These guys don’t owe you anything. Moreover, we’ve all got more tangible things to concern ourselves with than the players we never actually saw. DO BETTER FOLKS. DON’T HOLD THESE GUYS TO A HIGHER COMMITMENT LEVEL THAN YOU DEMONSTRATED. God knows I was unreliable as an 18 (or 31) year old.
Billis King also brought this up on his radio show. ND will always be more vulnerable to the “dramatic” de-commit from their recruiting class given the national nature of their recruiting effort. Being a national recruiter means you also will deal with the fact that you can’t be everywhere at once. Considering the “what could have been” of recruits you never had is the same as considering what you would do with a million dollars. If that’s your bag, cool. But don’t this into a referendum on the integrity of high schoolers.
Final Rating: P-Jack Island
NFL Defections – Graduation always leads to a certain degree of having to deal with this factor. There are also certain underclassmen that should be expected to turn pro sooner rather than later. Nix and Tuitt should have come as no surprise. Yes, Atkinson was surprising though not detrimental to the program. Niklas’ decision was the biggest shock, but we shouldn’t be be-grudging him. Similar to the coordinator situation, it’s not a bad thing that the NFL might want ND’s players.
However, let’s stay “on topic” (whatever that means) as this is about the merits of discussing the issue. Losses of proven players is always relevant. The problem with it is that we are always left to speculate and make snap decisions. As an ND contingent, at what point do we stop worrying about developing tight ends given we’ve done it so consistently? How big a loss is GAIII given our expectations for Folston and Bryant? How much would he have even played?
The defensive losses are more tangible. Attempting to replace Nix and Tuitt is not an easy task, but what might a healthy Sheldon Day add? How will BVG’s scheme impact the relative values of defensive linemen? When I have these many questions and don’t consider anyone to be a more competent source than TMZ (on the exact same topic), I’m left to conclude…
Final Rating: Freshman P-Jack
I’m cognizant of the subtle irony of this entire post. Can something actually be subtly ironic? No idea. Seems like a great topic for another post…on another site. As that thing called the “season” approaches, things become more relevant, but man, like I said at the outset, it’s a dark, dark time. I don’t want to detract from the generally entertaining offseason dialogue that takes place, but know where you’re at on the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter. Offseason – you’re welcome, you’re now self-aware.