Hens looking for big year from junior LB Jackson

Anthony Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, is a player the Hens know they can count on after he became a full-time starter last fall. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

Anthony Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, is a player the Hens know they can count on after he became a full-time starter last fall. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — From the moment the football hit the ground in the backfield, this had a chance to be a big play for Delaware’s defense.

And, sure enough, when linebacker Anthony Jackson picked up the fumble, he had nothing but green turf in front and a throng of Blue Hen defenders ready to escort him.

“It was just sitting there,” Jackson said with a smile. “We practice those a million times — ‘scoop and score’ opportunities. That was going to be a touchdown.”

But, just as Jackson started to hit full stride on Saturday, the referees blew the play dead. This was only a scrimmage after all.

Still, Delaware coach Dave Brock won’t be surprised if Jackson makes his share of big plays once the Blue Hens are playing for real.

With Delaware returning all its linebackers from last season and then adding Penn State transfer Troy Reeder to the group, there’s no shortage of depth at the position.

But Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, is a player the Hens know they can count on after he became a full-time starter last fall. The only change is that Jackson has moved to the top strongside spot with Reeder looking like the starter on the weakside.

Delaware made the move this week because the returning starting strongside linebacker, Jalen Kindle, is currently sidelined with an injury.

“It’s like a revelation,” Brock said about moving Jackson. “You’ve got Troy tucked in there now — he makes plays all over the field. We’re probably going to be as big and fast and dynamic at linebacker as most people.”

With junior Charles Bell a third-year starter in the middle, Brock said the Hens probably have seven linebackers that could see regular playing time. He said it’s just putting the right players on the field so that their abilities mesh.

“That’s kind of how you pound through the next week,” said Brock. “You really try to determine how many reps are they going to get and really try to match them up. What’s the best combination of people to be in? It’s not just ‘put a guy in.’ You want guys that are going to be able to play off each other.”

Jackson said the switch to the strong side has worked well, so far.

“I like it,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to just play fast.”

A year ago, Jackson finished second on the team to Bell with 53 tackles. He also forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass.

Jackson said he wasn’t too worried about how the addition of Reeder as an outside linebacker would affect his playing time. Reeder was a second-team Freshman All-American last fall after posting 67 tackles in 11 starts for Penn State.

“We just left it to our coaches,” said Jackson. “We just trust in them to make the right decision. We know if Brock brings them in, then he’s the right person and we’re going to be good together.

“I’m really excited about it. We’ve just got tremendous depth. And we’re all big and fast. We’re just flying around having fun with it.”

Airing it out

Brock continues to be encouraged by the improvement of Delaware’s passing game.

Sophomore quarterback Joe Walker was on target most of the time, leading the Hens’ No. 1 offense on a touchdown drive to start Saturday’s scrimmage before putting together a nice two-minute drive to end the session.

Walker found receiver Charles Scarff over the middle for about a 20-yard game down to the two-yard line with three seconds left. Walker’s pass on the last play of the day was tipped at the line of scrimmage for an incompletion as time ran out.

“We threw the ball really, really accurately today and made a lot of plays,” said Brock. “It certainly hasn’t looked like this in a long time.”

On the run

Thomas Jefferson loves the thought of what the Hens should be able to do at running back this season.

When Delaware lost its top two backs, Wes Hills and Jalen Randolph, to season-ending injuries early last fall, it left the Hens relying on youngsters Kareem Williams and Jefferson.

But now all four running backs are healthy.

“We’re so versatile at the backs now,” said Jefferson, who was the CAA Co-Offensive Rookie of the Year when he ran for 890 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. “The defense is going to get a different look every time a different back is in.

“Wes runs like a train, Jalen is extremely smart, Kareem is quick and me, I don’t know, it just happens.”

Williams, a junior, has asked to redshirt this season because of the logjam at the position. Of course, that was also the plan last season before all the injuries.

On the other hand, Williams ran the ball as hard as any of the backs during Saturday’s scrimmage.

“You could know you’re redshirting and throw in the towel,” Jefferson said about Williams’ situation. “But he knows that’s not going to get us better. You have to get the looks now so you prepare yourself for next year.”

As for this season, Jefferson said he’s not wondering if all those backs will get a chance to run with the ball.

“I’m not worried about the carries,” he said. “I just want to win, to be honest.

“The only thing I’m worried about is getting out of shape — with so many other guys,” he joked. “It’s a vast difference from how last year was. Having only one other guy and taking every single rep. … Everyone’s legs on our running back staff are just fresh the whole time (this year). And if one guy goes down, you have another amazing back to step up right after that.”

Extra points

Polytech High grad Mark Bonnie got the chance to kick off during the special-teams portion of the scrimmage. … Receiver Jamie Jarmon watched his second scrimmage in street clothes because of a minor injury. … Receiver Troy Gallen, who’s missed his first two seasons with injuries, caught a punt on Saturday. After going through the standard five-day conditioning period when returning from an injury, Gallen is expected to start practicing for real on Monday. … Cornerback Nasir Adderley made a leaping interception on a pass thrown by redshirt freshman QB Pat Kehoe.

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