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Jackson excited to join Steelers after trade from Panthers

Sitting in his brand new white Steelers golf polo shirt, Donte Jackson was all smiles.

Acquired via a trade with the Panthers in a deal that saw the Steelers send wide receiver Diontae Johnson and a seventh-round pick for Jackson and a sixth-round pick from Carolina, Jackson is joining a team that has shown interest in him since he first came into the NFL as a second-round draft pick out of LSU in 2018.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was on hand at LSU's pro day in 2018 when Jackson ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash – bettering his NFL Scouting Combine time of 4.32 seconds – and was one of just two head coaches on hand to witness that performance.

"Coach Tomlin, he was on me a lot coming out of college, and a lot when I was getting ready to sign my second contract," the 28-year-old Jackson said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "I signed a second contract with the Panthers and the Steelers were right there. This past trade deadline, they were right there. And now they're right there again. So, I just feel like it's meant to be. I can't even express the amount of respect and gratitude I have for this organization for not only taking the chance on me but making me a guy that they focus on getting, that they really showed they wanted for years and years now. I'm finally getting to be here.

"I feel like it happened at the time it was supposed to happen. I've been playing my best ball. I'm just happy to get out there with this great defense and shock the league. I just can't wait."

Steelers acquire Donte Jackson via trade

A seven-year NFL veteran, Jackson spent the first six seasons of his NFL career with the Panthers, appearing in 80 career games.

At 5-10, 180 pounds, he's a savvy outside cornerback with 14 career interceptions who will be capable of lining up opposite second-year corner Joey Porter Jr. in a secondary that also includes All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Jackson and Fitzpatrick aren't strangers. Both were high picks in the 2018 NFL Draft and played against each other three times when Jackson was at LSU and Fitzpatrick at Alabama.

"I've been a huge fan of Minkah since we came in the league," Jackson said. We came into the league the same year, and we played in college against each other three years in a row. So I've always always been a fan of Minkah. He's an exceptional player. His football IQ through the roof. So I'm just just getting out there to be with a guy who just makes football easier for his teammates and his running mates. Getting to go out there with one of the league's best safeties, it's going to be amazing."

Jackson will be counted on to help replace some of the Steelers' losses in the secondary. Both Levi Wallace and nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan are free agents, while the Steelers also released veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson recently.

That leaves Porter as the only cornerback with starting experience returning on the Steelers' roster. Jackson is a fan of Porter's game after watching him in a season that saw him finish as a finalist for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"I've watched so much film on Joey," Jackson said. "I probably can tell you every one of his plays from his rookie year. He's exceptional. I just can't wait to go out there and watch him up close and personal and take the field with him and just do everything that this franchise deserves from its corners."

Jackson was a starter from Day 1 with the Panthers. As a rookie in 2018, he and Carolina made the trip to Pittsburgh in a game in which he was matched up on former Steelers star Antonio Brown quite a bit in a 52-21 Pittsburgh victory.

That game left a lasting impression on Jackson.

"I remember being a rookie and coming to Heinz Field for the first time and being just amazed at the heritage and the culture that's just oozing throughout that stadium," Jackson said. "I remember being just starstruck at that. I remember seeing Big Ben (Roethlisberger) for the first time as a rookie, you know, being starstruck at that and AB and all those guys, just the amount of greatness that's attached to this franchise."

And now he's a part of it and the stability the franchise brings with it.

In six seasons in Carolina, Jackson played for five different head coaches. He's looking forward to working with Tomlin and a veteran defensive staff.

"I've dealt with a lot of ups and downs," Jackson said. "My last team for six seasons, there were a lot of coaching changes, a lot of personnel changes. I think just being somewhere like this, where a lot of the roots are already in the ground, a lot of the coaching is the same, a lot of management is the same, a lot of the training, just that culture, it just gets you ready to come in and just to be a part of something like this is just amazing."

Jackson has been a player throughout his career who has been opportunistic. He had multiple interceptions in each of his first five NFL seasons before being shut out in that department last season. But he was part of a Carolina secondary that gave up just 171.5 passing yards per game, the third-lowest total in the league.

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Jackson played a career-high 903 defensive snaps as part of that unit, showing he was fully recovered from an Achilles' tendon injury that forced him to miss the final eight games of the 2022 season.

"I'm a do-it-all corner. I do it all," Jackson said. "I wouldn't expect a lot of Steelers fans to have watched a lot of Panthers games over the years. But if you go back and watch, you'll see a dog. You'll see a corner who's going to get up there in front of anybody and compete. You're going to see a guy who's going to come up and who's going to make tackles at a high level. You're going to see a guy who just wants to win, who wants to be great and who wants to goes out of his way to be the best teammate he could be. 

"And you're getting somebody who's excited to prove themselves. Like I said, I don't expect a lot of Steelers fans to be familiar with my game unless you stumbled upon a Panthers game here in the past, but you're going to see that I'm among some of the best in the league."