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New Bucs receiver from Appalachian State hopes to impress on bigger stage

Dexter Jackson, working out on the first day of a rookie minicamp, landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated after Appa?lachian State’s upset of Michigan.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Dexter Jackson, working out on the first day of a rookie minicamp, landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated after Appa?lachian State’s upset of Michigan.

TAMPA — Dexter Jackson was given a new pair of shoes for the first day of rookie minicamp Friday, but he didn't want anything to wear down his wheels.

Instead, the speedy second-round draft pick pulled on his familiar black and gold cleats from Appalachian State. Breaking into the Bucs offense also might take a little time, but Jackson is a perfect fit as a kick returner.

"These were already broken in," he said. "And I'd hurt my feet on these new shoes, so I wanted to stay light on my feet."

Jackson's feats afoot are what attracted scouts to the tiny Division I-AA school in Boone, N.C., tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But in reality, it was two plays in a 34-32 season-opening upset of No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor that put Jackson and the school on the national map.

On their third play, the Mountaineers lined up in a five-wideout, no-back set. Jackson took a slant pass and dashed 68 yards for a score. He added a 20-yard touchdown catch and finished with three catches for 92 yards.

The effort landed the 5-foot-9, 182-pounder on the cover of Sports Illustrated, headlined "All-time Upset."

He said he has autographed "thousands" of copies and owns about 25.

"It only happens once in a lifetime. You might as well enjoy it," he said.

"I feel like it really helped kick-start this whole journey for me as a person, as an individual. My confidence went through the roof. I felt like if I can make plays in this game, why not the rest of the season?"

Jackson caught just 30 passes as a senior. But eight went for touchdowns, and the Southern Conference's 200-meter track champ had almost 23 yards per catch.

It didn't help that the Mountaineers run a no-huddle, spread offense that takes advantage of quarterback Armanti Edwards' running. In fact, he never caught more than 33 passes in a season.

"He got (fewer) opportunities in his offense, but I think teams knew who he was," Mark Dominik, Bucs pro scouting director, said. "This was a guy you had to double up and be ready to take him out of the offense."

Jackson's stock rose during workouts for the East-West Shrine Game. Then he ran 4.27 seconds for 40 yards at the scouting combine, fastest among the receivers.

From his physical measurements, he is similar to Joey Galloway. It's not a coincidence. The Bucs have stockpiled big, physical receivers such as Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall, but they need someone who can stretch the field in case the 36-year-old Galloway goes down.

"Hopefully, Joey can take me under his wing and just teach me the ropes," Jackson, 21, said. "He has a lot of experience, so I'll be willing to listen and learn from him."

In the meantime, Jackson's biggest contribution this season likely will come on special teams, returning punts and kickoffs.

"We looked at him as a returner-receiver who hopefully could develop," Dominik said. "There are a lot of teams that have taken guys in the second round with that dynamic in mind. Some of them have panned out and have been able to play receiver as well as returner, and some of them are just returners. In this league, if you want a returner … you've got to go get one. They're hard to just pick off a tree."

Jackson admitted he was nervous catching passes from fifth-round pick Josh Johnson during minicamp while being barked at by coach Jon Gruden.

"It's going to be a work in progress," Gruden said. "But you see the athletic ability. They're two good kids. I think they will continue to improve."

That's a shoe-in.

New Bucs receiver from Appalachian State hopes to impress on bigger stage 05/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 9:30am]
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