COSTA MESA, Calif. — J.C. Jackson was sitting at his locker in the corner of the Los Angeles Chargers’ locker room Thursday afternoon, and when he heard the question, the star cornerback looked to the floor and paused for a brief moment.
Are you in good health?
“I’m playing, so I want to say-”
Jackson paused and continued.
“I’m not 100% ready,” he said. “I’m doing what I can.”
Whatever Jackson was doing wasn’t enough for Brandon Staley and the rest of the Chargers’ coaching staff. This is evident through three matches this season.
Jackson, who suffered a season-ending rupture of his patellar tendon in Week 7 last season, was inactive for the Chargers’ 28-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis. Staley said after the game that it was a “coach’s decision.” No health concerns related to the knee were mentioned. Staley followed up the answer on Monday by saying the issues with Jackson were “just the overall product, from the beginning of the week to the end of the week.”
Jackson’s knee injury was severe, and he showed exemplary effort and determination in his rehabilitation, remaining at the team facility throughout the offseason. He was ahead of schedule when he participated in the first practice of training camp, showing enough to start the Chargers’ first two games this season, losses to the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans.
Jackson would not have been on the field for training camp or the first two games of this season if he had not been medically cleared. However, he insisted on Thursday that he is not completely healthy.
One reporter began his question with, “You said you don’t think you’re 100 percent…”
Jackson cut off the question.
“I know I’m not,” he said firmly. “It is not a ‘thought’.” I know.”
The Chargers signed Jackson to a five-year, $82.5 million contract last offseason for games like the one they played Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings feature perhaps the best receiver in football in Justin Jefferson. In March 2022, days after agreeing to terms with Jackson, Staley said the following: “We were looking for…someone with his ability to cover against No. 1 receivers. He’s one of the few guys in the league who actually travels with No. 1 receivers.
When that opportunity came Sunday, Jackson was watching from the sidelines in a jacket and shorts.
“I’m still confused as to why,” Jackson said when asked about his inactivity for the Vikings. “I can’t put my opinion on it. It was the coach’s decision. It was above (me). I’m not in control. This is not my team. That’s what I’m saying. I can tell you I’m confused, I don’t know what’s going on. “But that’s not the real answer to why I didn’t play last week or why I didn’t start. That’s beyond me.”
It’s hard to imagine that someone on the Chargers’ coaching staff — particularly Staley or defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley — didn’t have a conversation with Jackson explaining exactly why he was inactive on Sunday.
Jackson somewhat contradicted himself in his media session on Thursday. When asked if being benched was a surprise, Jackson replied: “It wasn’t a surprise. I kind of knew what was going on. I kind of knew what was going on.”
“You’re trying to get an answer that I’m not going to give you all,” Jackson said. “Last week was last week. Let’s leave last week where it was.
Ultimately, the Chargers have every incentive to get the most out of Jackson. They gave him a contract that made him among the 10 highest-paid players in the league. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the organization this season. The path to a better defensive unit for Staley helps Jackson rediscover the level of play he showed in New England. Every move and decision the Chargers made was designed to make that happen.
“He’s on our team, and we expect him to prepare, practice and continue to improve. Those are our expectations for him,” Staley said Monday.
Being on the bench on Sunday appears to be a challenge for Jackson.
On Monday, a warrant was issued for his arrest in Massachusetts after he failed to appear in court for a probation violation hearing.
When asked about the arrest warrant on Thursday, Jackson said: “I’ve got my team on top of it. Everything’s being taken care of. It was a misunderstanding. But it’s all taken care of, man.”
Jackson said he expects to play Sunday when the Chargers host the Las Vegas Raiders in a battle of 1-2 AFC West teams.
“We are ready to take on Las Vegas,” he said.
Staley said Wednesday that “all options are open” regarding Jackson’s role against the Raiders, including him being active but not starting.
Another elite receiver awaits in Davante Adams, who had 18 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns in two games against the Chargers last season.
Will Jackson get the opportunity this weekend to be the No. 1 cornerback the Chargers envisioned in the 2022 season?
Ultimately that is up to him.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Jackson said. “I’m just going to continue to be who I am, continue to work hard, come to work and do what I have to do. There’s no pressure on me. So I’m just going to do my daily routine, be professional and take care of business on Sunday.”
(Photo: Jane Kamen Onsia/USA Today)
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