RENTON — Aside from quarterback, there remains no more heated position competition for the Seahawks than cornerback.
And suddenly moonwalking his way into the battle the last few weeks is fourth-year vet Michael Jackson.
OK, excuse the allusion to the singer. And to be sure, Jackson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who played at the University of Miami, has heard it a lot. He says his name has no connection to his more famous namesake — it’s just the name he was given.
But as the legendary singer was known for making hits, this Jackson has become known in his year with the Seahawks for dishing them out.
“Coming up hitting, covering his butt off,” teammate Al Woods said Monday when asked what’s impressed him of Jackson. “He’s going to surprise a lot of people. I think he’s going to be good.”
Jackson, certainly, was a rare bright spot in Thursday’s desultory 27-11 loss to the Bears with three tackles while also allowing just two completions on five passes thrown his way for just 10 yards in 35 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was a performance that further thrust him into the competition at cornerback, which became more unsettled when Sidney Jones IV and Artie Burns, the starters the first few weeks of camp, suffered injuries that so far mean neither has played, and with 2021 fourth-round pick Tre Brown remaining on the physically unable to perform list with no set return date in sight.
On Thursday, Jackson started at left corner with rookie Tariq Woolen on the right side, and the lineup has remained that way most of this week in practice, as well.
“I think that Michael has had one of the most outstanding camps of anybody,” coach Pete Carroll said Sunday. “He has been solidly consistent, he’s been challenging the whole time. He’s had four, five or maybe six different chances to make a hit in the game, and he hit every one of them. He’s been physical every time. He’s played fast, he’s played aggressive, and he’s played confident, so he’s had a fantastic camp. He kind of got a chance when the other guys were out, and he took full advantage of it. I have no problem with Michael on the field.”
Jackson’s emergence might have played into the team’s decision to shift fourth-round pick Coby Bryant to nickel, which now appears to be his primary position, backing up veteran Justin Coleman.
That for now appears to leave Woolen, Burns, Jones and Jackson as the players on the two deep for the outside corner spots.
Seattle typically keeps five cornerbacks, so the Seahawks could have a tough decision to make. The only certainty might be that both rookies make it. Jones is just about a lock after signing a contract with $1.3 million guaranteed last spring, and since Coleman is running as the No. 1 nickel, he also seems in good shape.
That could leave Jackson and Burns battling for one spot or convincing the Seahawks to keep both.
Jackson says he isn’t stressing it.
“I’ve been drafted, I’ve been cut,” Jackson said. “I’ve been through it all.”
Jackson was a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2019 but waived in the cutdown to 53. Signed to Dallas’ practice squad, he then was signed to Detroit’s active roster shortly after. He played in one game that year for the Lions (where one of his teammates was Coleman) before being traded to New England before the 2020 season. He spent most of that season on the Patriots’ practice squad but played in one game before he was released heading into the 2021 season and then signed with Seattle’s practice squad.
“It’s funny — every team I’ve been on had a Pro Bowl corner in front of me,” he said, reeling off the names of Byron Jones in Dallas, J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore in New England and Darius Slay in Detroit.
Was that ever frustrating?
“Nah, you take it for what it is,” he said. “That’s my journey.”
And now at 25, he feels learning from those players and experiences also has made him the best he’s been.
He showed glimpses of that Jan. 2 when injuries meant he had to play 25 snaps in Seattle’s win over Detroit, with Jackson not allowing a completion on two targets.
“It showed what I can do,” Jackson said.
Still, the drafting of Bryant and Woolen made it easy to consider Jackson an afterthought in the cornerback battle when camp began.
“That’s the NFL,” Jackson said of what he thought when the team drafted two other corners. “That’s a part of it.”
Throughout, what has stood out is Jackson’s physicality. At 6-1, 210, the only corner who is taller is the 6-4 Woolen, and only the recently signed, 5-11, 215-pound Jameson Houston weighs more.
And while cornerback play is often judged mostly by what happens in the passing game, few coaches might value how corners play the run as much as Carroll — he often cited that as an underrated strength of Richard Sherman and Seahawks fans don’t need reminding about Brandon Browner’s physicality.
Jackson says it’s an area of the game in which he takes pride.
“I’m a blue-collar guy,” Jackson said. “I’m not flashy. I’m willing to hit an offensive lineman knowing he’s probably going to run me over. I’m OK with that.”
Hits that might land him right smack on the Seahawks roster.