As Braylon Edwards and Marlin Jackson have
been discovering this season, it’s possible to be too
good.

Sharad Mattu

On offense, there’s Edwards, who’s suddenly got
defenders flocking to him on the field the way autograph-seekers do
off it. Sure, all the attention he draws helps everyone from Mike
Hart to the tight ends, but in the process, the Braylon Edwards
Heisman campaign has lost some of its steam.

On the other side of the ball, there’s Jackson,
who’s been seeing the football even less. Just last week
Jackson limited Taylor Stubblefield, who leads the nation in
touchdown catches, to just one grab. With teams avoiding his side
of the field, Jackson has just one interception, and, thanks to
him, the other defensive backs have a lot more.

Now, there’s no question that — in leading Michigan
to heights that didn’t seem possible when the conference
season began — the two are accomplishing what they wanted to
do when they decided to return for their senior year. But they also
came back to bolster their draft stock.

In order to keep improving, the receiver and cornerback had been
squaring up against each other at full-speed in practice.

A couple weeks ago, Edwards mentioned that last year, he missed
the challenge of going up against Jackson in practice because he
had moved to safety.

“He’s the best cornerback I’ve ever faced in
my life, and I’ve faced a lot of guys,” Edwards said.
“His aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage, his ability to
defend routes, his speed, his football knowledge — he’s
just a great cornerback.”

And when Jackson made the adjustment back to cornerback this
spring, Edwards was standing opposite him, challenging him and
making the transition as quick as possible.

“Going up against the best in practice is great,”
Jackson said. “For me, when I moved back (to cornerback) in
the spring, going up against Braylon helped a lot. Compared to him,
no other receivers will be that tough.”

But now that plan has hit a snag, too. That’s because,
apparently, it’s possible to try too hard in practice.

The two players are so competitive that when they would line up
in practice, they would practically begin wrestling each other on
occasion. It’s typical for the cornerback to keep the
receiver from running his route, and the receiver to hit back.

But No. 1 and No. 3 would go a step further.

“When it’s me and him one-on-one, it gets
heated,” Jackson said. “We want to make the most out of
every rep. We want to get better and better, and I guess the
coaches just thought we took it too far sometimes.”

Said Edwards: “If he jams me, I’m going to keep
fighting. I’m going to try to throw him down and get
away.

“And if I beat him deep, he’s going to hold me and
grab me and try to stay with me. When we go against each other,
it’s just a battle every time.”

Worried about the possibility of an injury, Michigan coach Lloyd
Carr had no choice but to put a stop to the battle.

“They go at it like it’s a game,” Carr said as
if it was a bad thing. “Braylon gets mad if he thinks Marlin
is interfering, and Marlin gets mad whenever Braylon catches a
ball.

“A couple weeks ago, it got to the point where they gave
me no choice. I had to tell them, ‘This is enough. I
can’t have you two going against each other.’

Though they don’t square off as much as they used to, Carr
believes their matchup was something that the entire team benefited
from.

“It’s a fun thing to see, and it’s a great
thing for our younger players to see,” Carr said.
“We’re very fortunate to have two seniors in practice
competing so hard like that.”

And who thought, at this time a year ago, Carr would be saying
something like that about these two.

Jackson and Edwards went through their ups and downs last year,
but chose to come back and give their Michigan careers a happy
ending. Now, they’re doing that and more. They’re
leading the Wolverines to a possible undefeated Big Ten season and
turning themselves into the top draft picks they hoped to be last
year.

While they haven’t been battling each other lately, they
both hope that — with the season winding down — they
can rekindle their rivalry. Both Edwards and Jackson say they
understand why Carr put a stop to it, though they believe
he’s “overprotective.”

What does Carr think? All he could do was smirk and say,
“Well, overprotective in their eyes.”

 

Sharad Mattu can be reached at
“mailto:smattu@umich.edu”>smattu@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *