July 8, 2019

Jackson May Be Small, But Has Big Dreams

Martese Jackson is looking forward to the first time he returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown with the Eskimos.

“That’s always the big prize,” said the five-foot-five, 171-pound kick-return specialist, who just missed out on a punt-return touchdown when he stepped on the sideline against the Montreal Alouettes last year. “I know it’s coming soon. It’s a long season. We have 15 more regular-season games. Hopefully, we can have plenty of big returns this season.”

While big returns can be game-changers, the Eskimos would probably settle for runbacks like Jackson delivered near the end of their last game at Winnipeg. Jackson scrambled for 19 yards on a punt return to give Edmonton – which needed a touchdown to tie the game – possession of the ball at the Blue Bombers’ 51-yard line with 74 seconds to play.

“When I caught it, good blocking was the main thing,” he said. “It was clear to see.”

Jackson still had to dodge and dart past Winnipeg tacklers on the punt return to set up the offence for a possible comeback.

“That was the main thing at that time,” he said. “We were trying to make a comeback. We had good field position as far as defence stopping them, and they punted. It was my goal to at least get in their territory or score a touchdown. Score a touchdown was the first goal, but I got decent field position.”

The Eskimos acquired Jackson, 27, in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts on Sept. 10, 2018, with the hope he would be able to provide a boost for their return game. He had scored two TDs while averaging 11.77 punt-return yards, added another touchdown on an opponent’s missed field goal attempt and averaged 21.7 kickoff-return yards with the Argos in 2017.

He also had the fourth-biggest single-game return performance in CFL history when he compiled 339 return yards (148 on punt returns, 191 on kickoff returns) in a game against Winnipeg.

Jackson, who averaged 7.4 yards on punt returns and 16.6 yards on kickoff returns in six games with the Eskimos last year, became a free agent during the off-season. While he stayed in contact with the team, he didn’t sign with Edmonton until the second day of training camp on May 20.

“I was just trying to find the right fit and the right situation with the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and everything that was going on,” he said.

The CFL Players Association and the league didn’t settle on a new CBA until a few days before training camps started.

Jackson finally returned to the Eskimos because “I felt like that was the best situation for me. I felt like that would bring the best out of me, and I would help the Edmonton Eskimos the most.”

The Eskimos changed their special teams coach during the season last fall and then brought in former player A.J. Gass to coach special teams this year.

“We had a good start in the pre-season,” said Jackson, who has played the last two games after sitting out the season opener. “We’re still trying to get to where we want to be as far as our standards. In the special teams room, we’re still shooting to reach our goals.”

Some of those lofty goals are returning kickoffs to at least the 40-yard line and averaging more than 20 yards on punt returns.

“The number one thing is ball security, securing the ball and making sure that we have the ball for the offence to take the field,” said Jackson, who is averaging 8.0 yards on punt returns and 18 yards on kickoff returns this year.

And then there’s that touchdown thing.

“Every day, that’s what we prepare for,” Jackson said. “That’s our mindset. Nothing less. When I’m out there on the field, I’m expecting to score touchdowns and do great things on special teams and on offence.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind. I don’t think there’s any doubt in our team’s mind. That should be the mindset for anybody on the field – not just the returner – just to have confidence in the work you have put in by yourself and with the team and the coaches.

“It’s going out there on the field and take what you speak, and you work for, and train for and put it into action on game day.”

The Eskimos are back in action at 8 p.m. Thursday against the BC Lions at BC Place.