For Bulldogs, getting Jackson the ball is key

The Citadel’s Cam Jackson will start at slotback after battling for the quarterback job in preseason practice. Paul Zoeller/Staff

On Cam Jackson’s first day of high school football, the coaches asked for a show of hands — who wants to play what position?

“About five guys said they wanted to play running back, and about five guys said they wanted to play linebacker,” said Jackson, who had grown up in Mobile, Ala., playing those positions. “But only one guy raised his hand for quarterback. So I said, ‘Uh, quarterback, I guess.’”

Citadel coaches asked Jackson to raise his hand to play quarterback again in preseason practice, competing with sophomore Dominique Allen for the starting job. For the 6-2, 197-pound Jackson, it was something of a no-lose proposition — if he didn’t beat out Allen for the QB job, Jackson knew he’d start at slotback, where he had a breakout season in 2014.

But still, he tried his best to win the QB job.

“Of course, I wanted it,” he said. “First of all, I wanted to push Dom, so he’d be better than me and we could both be out there on the field together. Then I had to split reps at slotback, so I just tried to go hard at both positions.”

In the end, Allen did well enough that coach Mike Houston named him the starting QB for Saturday’s season opener against Davidson. Jackson, a redshirt sophomore, will start at slotback, where he rushed for 505 yards and three touchdowns last season, averaging 8.9 yards per carry.

“It was coach’s decision,” said Jackson when asked if he was disappointed. “I’m happy either way. I know he made the right decision to have both of us on the field at the same time.”

Still, the decision leaves Houston and offensive coordinator Brent Thompson with something of a dilemma. How do they make sure that Jackson — whom Houston calls “the leader of the offense, no matter what position he plays” — gets enough touches during each game?

Last season, as the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack averaged a Southern Conference-best 347.2 rushing yards during a 5-7 campaign, quarterback Aaron Miller had a team-high 226 carries, averaging 18.8 rushes per game. Fullbacks Tyler Renew and Isiaha Smith carried a combined 299 times, giving the fullback about 25 carries per game. The most-used slotback was Jake Stenson, who averaged 7.5 carries in nine games. Jackson himself carried 57 times in nine games, an average of 6.3 carries.

Those numbers might break down a little differently this year, according to Houston.

“I think with every year, no matter what offense and what school, you adapt,” Houston said. “Certainly, we recruit to our scheme. But still, you adapt your scheme to fit the abilities that you have. What we did last year revolved around what we had last year. Certainly, this year’s team has a different group of players with different abilities, and we’ll adapt our scheme to fit that.”

That could mean less pure option plays, where a correct read of the defense determines where the ball goes.

“There are ways” to get a certain player the ball,” Houston said. “You can take the option out of it. There are a lot of pre-determined things in our offense, and if we choose to do that, that’s one way we could do it.”

Jackson also could figure more in the passing game, where he caught eight balls for 97 yards in 2014.

No matter how many touches he gets, Jackson said the Bulldogs’ offense — with 10 starters back, including all five linemen — will be better this season.

“We’re going to be a lot more disciplined,” he said. “We had a lot of unnecessary penalties last year, and we’ve been working hard on ball security. I think with the guys we have now, at any given time, somebody can have a big day.”