PASADENA, Calif. — The sun had already set behind the
surrounding San Gabriel foothills as Marlin Jackson walked from the
Rose Bowl lockerroom to the Michigan team bus. On the way through
the mob of fans waiting outside the gates, he gave the first
indication of whether the sun will rise again on his Michigan
career.

Kate Green
BRETT MOUNTAIN/Daily
The Rose Bowl — much like the season — was disappointing for Marlin Jackson.

“If I’m back here, I’ll be at corner,”
Jackson said directly after his team’s 28-14 loss to Southern
Cal. “I’m the best corner in the country. I’ll be
back at corner.”

Jackson, an All-America cornerback last season, moved to safety
in fall practice so that Michigan could get its three most seasoned
defensive backs — Jackson and corners Jeremy LeSueur and
Markus Curry — on the field at the same time.

The switch seemed logical, given Michigan’s inexperience
at safety entering the season. But after Jackson injured his leg at
Minnesota and missed the next three games, young safeties Willis
Barringer and Jacob Stewart proved more than capable of playing the
position full-time.

Jackson returned to action at Northwestern, and during
Michigan’s last three games, didn’t make much of an
impact at safety. After the Rose Bowl, the Preseason Big Ten
Defensive Player of the Year’s disappointment was
obvious.

“It’s been frustrating,” Jackson said.
“It wasn’t a good season for me at all.”

Jackson played in nine games — he missed three due to
injury and one to suspension. He made 50 tackles, intercepted two
passes, forced a fumble and blocked a field goal. He broke up just
five passes, compared to 18 last season, when he broke Charles
Woodson’s Michigan single-season record.

“(Playing safety) was just more physical than I
thought,” Jackson said. “I had to learn it very
quickly, basically during two-a-days.”

So, the deal is on the table: If coach Lloyd Carr won’t
move Jackson back to cornerback, Jackson will declare for the 2004
NFL Draft.

Even if Carr clears Jackson to return to corner next season, the
Sharon, Pa., native will consider the pro ranks.

“I have to think about what would be the best thing for
me, not Michigan,” Jackson said.

The best thing for Jackson, whether at Michigan or in the pros,
would be to return to the form of his sophomore season, when he
shut down top wide receivers in Washington’s Reggie Williams
and Michigan State’s Charles Rogers. Rogers, now with the
Detroit Lions, tabbed Jackson the best cornerback he played against
in college.

The best thing for Michigan is for Jackson to return for his
senior season and play cornerback, alongside Curry. Ernest Shazor,
Barringer and Stewart would play safety. If Jackson left, current
true freshman Leon Hall would likely be thrust into a starting
role.

In current NFL Mock Drafts, Jackson is being projected anywhere
from the sixth pick overall to the middle of the second round. Most
boards predict Jackson to be drafted in the middle to late first
round if he declares.

“It’s a life decision, so it’s a very
difficult thing to handle,” Jackson said. “I just have
to make sure I make the right decision and weigh all of my
options.”

Jackson has until mid-January to declare for the draft.

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