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How transfer cornerback JC Jackson changes the game for Maryland football

What Maryland’s new cornerback means for the Terrapins’ pass defense.

Greg Fiume / Maryland Athletics

The Maryland football program has quietly added a significant talent, and he’ll make an outsize impact from just about the moment he starts playing.

Junior college transfer JC Jackson, a former four-star Florida signee who, for reasons having nothing to do with the sport, has yet to play a major college football down. But Jackson’s now with Maryland, and that’ll be a big deal.

First things first: He’s taken a circuitous route to Maryland. As a first-time recruit in the class of 2014, Jackson was considered an elite player as both a cornerback and a receiver. He had offers from a bunch of top programs, and he ultimately settled on Florida. Jackson was charged with (and eventually acquitted of) armed robbery, but his legal struggles ultimately foreclosed any chance he had of continuing at Florida. The SEC’s "serious misconduct" rule barred him from playing anywhere in that league, even though the eyes of the law looked favorably upon him.

Jackson wound up playing JUCO ball instead of in the Power 5, but it’s worth keeping sight of how potentially good he could be. He’s an excellent athlete.

From a 247Sports scouting report when he signed with Florida:

Jackson is one of the elite athletes in the 2014 class, and as good a cornerback as he is, he might even be better as a receiver. He has a knack for making plays with the ball in his hands. As a cornerback, he has good size and is well developed physically for his age. He has terrific closing speed but will still need to refine his technique, particularly his hip swivel and footwork, once he arrives on campus.

Jackson is a good player, and he’s especially helpful for a defense like Maryland’s.

DJ Durkin is a defensive coach. His defense last year at Michigan was terrific, and its foundation was strong defensive back play. Durkin had elite safety Jabrill Peppers and cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and secure in the knowledge that he only needed two or three defensive backs to seal off a lot of passing games, Durkin was able to deploy a more aggressive front seven.

Maryland’s defense this year will play a lot of downs with just one high safety and two or three cornerbacks sticking to wide receivers. You need good man coverage for something like that to work, and that’s what Jackson can give the Terps.

Maryland already has cornerback Will Likely, who’s a senior and figures to have a typically solid year. Jackson gives Maryland two cornerbacks who shouldn’t be overmatched against the Big Ten’s best receivers, which means extra bodies can head toward the line of scrimmage to help what’s going to be a very green Maryland front.

Jackson's presence will let Maryland use cornerback Alvin Hill on the outside opposite him, and Likely can play as a nickel on the inside, where there's no reason he shouldn't be great. The entire complexion of the secondary is different with Jackson involved.

On top of that, Maryland will be breaking in two new starting safeties this year. Aiding those safeties with two top cornerbacks is insurance secondary coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim will be delighted to have.

This pass defense could turn out to be pretty good.

It is conventional and reasonable wisdom that Maryland should give up a ton of passing yards this year. The Terps were 104th out of 128 FBS teams last year in air yards allowed (both per game and per attempt), and then they lost three senior DBs and their two best pass rushers, Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson.

"Pass defense probably won’t be a strength," read Bill Connelly’s Maryland mega-preview earlier in July.

Adding something resembling a lockdown corner would change that. Is Jackson that good? It’s hard to say, at least until we learn more about his role. But he’s got No. 1 corner talent, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Likely will hold up his end of the field as long as he’s healthy.

Maryland may or may not have a good defense this year, and Jackson may or may not live up to the recruiting pedigree he built for himself two-and-a-half years ago.

But what’s certain is that Maryland’s prognosis with Jackson in the fold is a whole lot better than it was without him in it. He's really good, and now he's Maryland's.