OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asa Jackson is trying to earn a starting cornerback spot with the Baltimore Ravens this summer after serving suspensions in each of the past two seasons.
“He’s really dedicated himself to all the little things it takes to play the position,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s in great shape. He’s been very durable. He’s doing a good job.”
Jackson would prefer conversations involving him to be about how he plays as a defensive back or punt returner rather than what came up the past two years — suspensions.
After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Cal Poly, Jackson missed four games that year and eight last season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Those suspensions helped limit the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder to a total of only seven games played in his first two years — with just one tackle — even though he’d shown the team and coaches plenty of promise.
Jackson entered this camp focused on trying to lock up the starting cornerback spot across from Jimmy Smith.
“I’m definitely competing,” Jackson said. “I’m not really worried about the depth charts. I want to come out here and compete and try to get better every day.”
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees believes the time Jackson missed probably didn’t hurt him because he’s been around the team long enough to understand what the Ravens do.
Pees has been impressed with the effort Jackson has given during training camp.
“He’s a talented competitor, and if he can stay on the field he’s going to be a great contributor,” Pees said. “If it’s on special teams, corner, whatever. He’s a talented little guy.”
Jackson said being in his third year has helped him understand different things to do on defense. He hopes that experience will provide him a better understanding of when he can gamble a bit and play aggressively.
“I’ve always been an aggressive player,” Jackson said. “This is my third year in this defense. I know kind of the ins and outs of it a little bit more, which is allowing me to take my chances.”
Jackson also should be getting some preseason chances on punt returns, something he did with the Ravens in the past two years.
He returned a punt for a touchdown during the 2012 preseason, but that got called back. Jackson scored on a 78-yard punt return last summer also. The Ravens could be looking for someone to take some of the pressure off Jacoby Jones at that position, and Jackson also wants the coaches to notice him there.
“It’s been a big part of my game since high school and college,” Jackson said. “I’ve looked to keep that aspect of my game active and hopefully be a contributor there, too.”