Asa Jackson admits he wasn't ready to compete for a job in the Ravens defense two years ago.
It wasn't just that he was then a wiry 5-foot-10, 182-pound cornerback. It wasn't because he was a fifth-round pick out of small-school Cal Poly.
It was because he wasn't mature enough.
Jackson has been suspended twice under the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He served a four-game suspension as a rookie, then an eight-game suspension at the start of his sophomore season. Both infractions reportedly stemmed from unauthorized usage of Adderall, a drug used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Now entering his third season, Jackson has a third chance. And it's a golden one.
He's competing for the nickel cornerback spot behind Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, a position that sees a lot of action on Sundays.
"You can't take football for granted," Jackson said. "It can be gone just like that, and it's not a good feeling, especially when it's something you've put so much into your whole life.
"Sometimes you have to grow up as a man before you can be put in a position with that much responsibility like it is playing on defense."
Jackson had gained the required approval he needed for his prescribed medication before his suspension. It came after his positive test, however.
It was unknown if Jackson would even be back with the Ravens following his second suspension last year.
But Head Coach John Harbaugh stuck with the young corner, and Jackson practiced well enough last summer to earn a place when he returned.
"Luckily with this organization, there's a lot of communication between players and coaches and players and the upper organization," Jackson said. "I'm just thankful that I've been put in a place that has been willing to give me the opportunity to be here. I'm trying to take advantage of it."
Last year, Jackson played in just four games and didn't make a tackle. He was used only on special teams. That could change this year.
With the departure of Corey Graham to Buffalo in free agency, Jackson and Chykie Brown are the primary options to replace him. The Ravens have also added two more veterans in Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks.
Jackson is the purest nickel corner of the bunch. If the Ravens went with Jackson, he would take the inside. If they went with Brown, the Ravens would likely use him outside and bump Lardarius Webb inside to nickel.
Jackson is a very quick player who takes the field with a lot of confidence. He's a natural fit to cover smaller slot receivers like Denver's Wes Welker or New England's Julian Edelman.
Jackson has challenged several balls during organized team activities (OTAs), but he also got beat once for a long touchdown on a simple slant pattern by veteran Steve Smith Sr.
"I think it's been going pretty well," Jackson said of the practices. "I've put in a lot of work in the offseason, so it's been nice to see that pay dividends on the field. I think I've been playing well. It's just a matter of eliminating mistakes – mainly easy ones."
If Jackson doesn't win the No. 3 cornerback job, he could still be kept on the 53-man roster as a backup return specialist behind Jacoby Jones. Jackson had a preseason punt return for a touchdown called back during his rookie year, but took a punt 78 yards to the end zone last preseason.
"When you've got an All-Pro returner, he's always going to be the guy until he's not the guy," Jackson said. "I just want to show the coaches that if they do need somebody else to return punts, I'm the guy to do it. If not, I want to be blocking for Jacoby to get some touchdowns that way."