ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Malik Jackson, a rookie fifth-rounder out of Tennessee, finished tied for fifth on the team and first among defensive lineman with eight tackles in the preseason. Jackson also recorded two preseason sacks to tie for the team lead in that category. DenverBroncos.com recently caught up with Jackson to talk about his adjustment to the NFL.
How difficult has the transition from college to the NFL been?
"It's been real difficult. Coming from college where you know you make the team because you know you have four years to grow, to coming here where any day they can get rid of you. You really have to be on your Ps and Qs and come out to work every day. There are no days off out here. You really just have to come to work. That's the biggest difference."
Is there one thing in particular that stands out about the NFL versus college football?
"The difference, to me, playing in the SEC, the strength might be a little bit more. You're playing with grown men. I'm 22 playing against guys that are 30-something. So the strength has a lot to do with it. And then the playbook, just how fast they just throw it on you was the biggest issue for me when I first came here for rookie OTAs. It was just kind of mind-boggling, they threw the whole book at me. It took me about a good month to get everything and now I'm good as far as the playbook goes. But the biggest thing is probably the strength and just how fast they expect you to learn stuff, because you want to come in and be that guy, be great and make no mistakes."
Do you think that playing both defensive tackle and defensive end in college was valuable?
"It's real valuable because it shows the coaches you can do more than one thing, you can be on the field for more than one reason. You have guys like (defensive tackle) Ty Warren, I have my man (defensive end) Robert Ayers, inside-outside guys who know what they're doing. It helps to have those types of guys who are seasoned vets who can help you out when you come here and give you some tips and pointers."
Were you able to benefit from playing for two years at both USC and Tennessee?
"I think so because it shows I have transition. It shows that I'm about my business. You have to make business decisions every day. Coaches do it and players do it, too. I feel like it showed that I can go somewhere else and have a new start and take advantage of it, and that's what I did."
How much has your game progressed since first arriving in Denver?
"I feel like I've come a long way, but then you always have a long way to go. Robert Ayers told me one day, 'It's a marathon, not a sprint.' You really have to take it slow every day and try to come in and work on certain stuff. Everything's just a marathon and not a sprint. You just have to take it day-by-day. You're going to make mistakes, you just have to get better."
Has defense always been your passion?
"I've just always been a defensive guy. My dad was my linebacker coach in Pop Warner. I never played any sports outside of football. I never did anything other than linebacker. I got to high school and played defense and that's all I did. I was always a defensive guy. I never even touched the offensive field."
When did you realize you could play in the NFL?
"My mom and dad told me when I was in high school that I had to earn a scholarship because they didn't have enough money to send me to college. So once I did that, I just figured that was my dream to always play in the NFL. My dad watched NFL Sunday every week. His favorite team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was up there watching it with him and it just kind of grew on me. I never knew I had the opportunity until I got to college and started getting these good coaches and kept learning. I really don't know when it hit me, but I just kept working for it."
How much does it add to your debut that your father is a Steelers fan?
"He's actually coming out here today. It's pretty cool for him to come out here and see his team and see his boy playing on the other team against them. He'll be pulling for the Broncos. Well, he'll be pulling for me -- I don't know if he'll be pulling for the Broncos (laughs)."