Kenji Jackson is hoping one trend continues into 2010. But he's looking to reverse some others.
The positive for the junior strong safety? Jackson's starts in the Missouri secondary went from four in 2008 to five in 2009, and now he has chance to get even more opens fall camp in the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
But as one number went up last year for Jackson, another went down. Despite starting one more game, Jackson's tackle total dropped from 62 to 41.
After spending the summer working on his man-to-man technique and quickness, Jackson is ready to use his two years experience to his advantage.
"When I'm out there the game seems a little slower, so it's easy for me to focus and know my keys and know what I need to do," Jackson said.
Jackson is making strides early in camp.
"He's doing a good job of leading our group," safeties coach Barry Odom said. "He's an older guy so he knows kind of what our program is about and does a good job in all aspects."
Jackson is happy in what he's hearing from his coaches, too.
"From what I can see based off of the feedback I'm getting from [defensive coordinator] Coach [Dave] Steckel and Coach Odom, it's all positive things," Jackson said. "Of course there's things I need to work on, but so far so good."
Jackson made an impact as a true freshman, seeing time in 13 games and starting four of the last five games of the season. His 62 tackles were the seventh highest on the team and he also pulled in two interceptions.
Although he cracked the starting lineup one more game in 2009, Jackson's productivity ultimately dropped across the board. In 12 appearances his tackle total dropped off 21 from the previous season and he failed to make an interception.
Jackson and the rest of the Missouri secondary will be looking to drag itself from near the bottom of the Big 12's pass defense rankings.
The Tigers finished 2009 ranked 11th in pass defense (251.5 yards per game) and 11th in interceptions (eight).
"I think the biggest thing is, that I look at with pass defense, is the big plays," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "You can be playing good, playing good, playing good, and all of a sudden give up a 30-yard pass and all of a sudden all that good that you've done, your focus is on 'Here we go again.' We've got to improve."
Odom is confident that improvement would come for Jackson and the safeties.
"We've all got to progress and get better each day and he's done that," Odom said. "He's improved every day and that's what we're asking all our guys to do, make steady improvements from day one to day two and day two to day three.
"He knows the defense; can make the calls from the back end. He's a smart kid and he'll give everything he's got."
With experience under his belt, Jackson is ready to make a step forward. Mentioning "not making the same mistakes twice", he is confident he can get to the next level.
"I know what I need to do," Jackson said. "It's just a matter of going out there and doing it and being consistent, making plays."