MORE TO PROVE

Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, a former first-round draft selection entering his fourth NFL season, showed last season he was one of the league's top young players at his position. He said his only focus this off-season is to improve upon 2007.

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After Big Season in 2007, Jackson Says Goal is Bigger Season in '08
INDIANAPOLIS – All offseason, Marlin Jackson heard the talk.

Although he heard it, and although the talk was very, very positive, he didn't agree.

It wasn't that people were saying Jackson – a fourth-year cornerback for the Colts – had a bad season last year, his first as a full-time starter. In fact, it was the opposite.

Jackson said it wasn't that he thought he had a bad year.

But he thought he was capable of so much more.

"People around me and football players tell me, 'You had a great year – you played really well,''' Jackson said during the team's off-season program, which concluded recently at the team's practice facility.

"I don't know if it's a chip on my shoulder, but I feel like I have so much more to prove. That's one of the things that drives me. I want everybody to realize what I'm capable of doing.

"I feel like I have to go out there and show it every week."

Not that Jackson didn't show it last season.

He did, and because he did, he not only emerged as one of the NFL's top young corners, he was a key to the Colts' young, improving defense.

Jackson, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, played extensively his first two seasons, starting eight games at safety in 2006. He also played a key role as a nickelback. Last season, he moved into a full-time role for the first time, starting 16 games at cornerback, intercepting a pass and finishing the season with 112 tackles, a number that placed him third on the team.

He also defensed five passes, the fourth-highest total on the team.

Those were solid statistics, but Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Jackson's impact on the Colts' defense went beyond numbers. Jackson and fellow cornerback Kelvin Hayden, each in their first seasons as starters, not only played the pass effectively, they were two of the NFL's top run-defending corners and helped the Colts improve dramatically against the run.

"I feel like I'm going to take my game to another level,'' Jackson said. "That's my mindset this offseason. I feel so much more comfortable within the game, within myself, knowing what I can do and just having more control over my body and the way I study.

"Just one year under the belt I feel like has made me so much better."

And Jackson said when he thinks of his experience level, he said that's how he thinks of it – as one year rather than three.

Although Jackson played extensively in his first two NFL seasons, he said the difference between starting and playing as a backup is dramatic, particularly at the cornerback position.

"It really helps being out there full-time," he said. "It helps you be more consistent. You know things aren't going to go well all the time. That's not natural. That's not football. It's not going to be perfect all the time. You prepare yourself for that and you develop a steady pace and steady feel for the game and for yourself.

"You try to stay even keel and stay as consistent as possible all the time."

That, Jackson said, has been his goal since the Colts made him a first-round selection in 2005.

But he said only recently has he been ready to fulfill that goal.

Whereas many young players – particularly first-round draft selections – bristle at the notion of not starting right away, Jackson said because he missed extensive time in the 2006 offseason, "I knew I wasn't ready."

"Because of the time I missed in the offseason with the injuries and whatnot, I never really got a good offseason to get a good feel," he said. "I was coming into camp behind everybody. I wasn't ready. The first time I felt I was ready to start was going into the playoffs when we won the Super Bowl. That's when I felt like, 'OK, I'm about there. I'm ready to go.'

"I knew then it was time I was definitely ready and what I was capable of."

The Colts, he said, were the ideal situation for his development during his first two seasons. "They help you come along, see that you're working hard and see that you have the potential," Jackson said. "They help you maximize your potential."

And time, he said, was what he needed. As a rookie, Jackson said he wasted a lot of it acting as though he was more ready than he actually was.

"I think you hurt yourself mentally if you try to step in there too soon and you're thinking you're this and that," he said. "When I first got here, I was a first-round pick. You feel you're supposed to start. The bad thing I did, I wasn't asking guys questions. This wasn't college. This was the NFL. It's a totally different game."

Entering his second season, Jackson said he resolved to change his attitude. He studied then-Colts veteran starting cornerback Nick Harper on and off the field, how Harper watched tape, how he prepared.

Jackson said the result was rapid improvement in 2006, a season that featured him making the game-clinching interception in the AFC Championship Game.

"If something happens now, I have the mental toughness to bounce back from that play and know that I'm going to come back and have another chance to make a play," he said.

Now, what he said is a more mature version of the former first-round selection is preparing for his fourth NFL season, his second as a starter. It's an imant season, Jackson said. He and the rest of the Colts' young improving secondary said during the off-season they discussed often how time in the NFL is short, and that with all four starters returning – Jackson, Hayden and Pro Bowl safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea – they have a unique chance to further establish themselves as one of the NFL's best units.

And for Jackson, he said next season is a chance for him to do the same thing individually, because he heard the talk and although much of it was positive, he didn't agree.

He said he believes he can get better. And for him this season, that's a major objective.

"It goes real fast," he said. "You can't take it for granted. Being around here, you watch how they prepare and how they view the game, how they feel about the game. Each and every year, you have to step it up and continue to work hard if you want to last in this league.

"Over these last two years, I've grown so much as a football player and a person. You don't think the same thing. Your mindset is different. You're more mature as a person and as a football player. They go hand in hand and make you better. I know I'm talented. I know how hard I work. I just want everybody to know that. I want to show it. That's I want everybody to realize, too.

"I know what I'm capable of doing, and I think I can get even better."

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