KNOXVILLE -- Janzen Jackson is young, but he's not naive.

Not anymore, anyway.

Tennessee's budding safety star knows few have forgotten the off-the-field incident that marred an otherwise stellar freshman season.

"I'm still battling an image crisis," the Louisiana native said with a matter-of-fact tone after Thursday's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.

Jackson eventually was cleared of legal wrongdoing in connection with an attempted armed robbery at a convenience store near UT's campus in November, but the court of public opinion remains uneasy.

Fair enough, Jackson said.

"I'm trying to show people who I really am, but that will come with time, and me being on the straight and narrow and getting everything done right off the field," he said.

New Volunteers secondary coach Terry Joseph has taken a particular interest in Jackson's future.

Joseph, who worked under UT head coach Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech, has known Jackson since his freshman season at Carencro (La.) High School.

"I've known Coach T.J. for a while," Jackson said. "He came and recruited some of the players that played with me there, so I've kind of known him, but I haven't really known him on a personal (basis). Just from him coming in and being one of the first coaches to come in with this staff, I've kind of gained trust in him.

"We have a good relationship now."

Joseph has made sure of that by being a consistent on-campus presence. He said he has kept close tabs on his players.

"He's real avid with being concerned as far as books and different stuff like that, and he's also concerned with how your family is doing," Jackson said. "He likes to get deeper than just a coach. He likes to be a mentor."

Talent has never been the issue with Jackson. The hard-hitting safety worked on his ball skills over the winter, and fruits of that labor have started showing. Dooley said Jackson's interception of Matt Simms in Thursday's scrimmage was a "great, phenomenal play" on a "good throw" from the junior college quarterback transfer.

Coaches and teammates say Jackson is doing well with more on-field responsibilities in the wake of All-American Eric Berry's departure.

"For me, I guess I'm more in the middle of the field now and covering receivers more, kind of like a nickel back position," Jackson said. "These coaches are letting me use my talents on the field, and I like what I'm seeing so far."

Dooley likes it, too.

"Obviously (Jackson) is one of those guys that just athletically really stands out and has all the tools," the head coach said.

Back to 'backer

Linebackers coach Lance Thompson didn't hesitate Tuesday when asked if any newcomers had stood out on the field.

"Oh, Austin Johnson, no question," Thompson said. "He's really coming on and making some things happen. He's a natural at that position."

With three potential starters watching on the sideline in street clothes during Thursday's scrimmage, Johnson ran with the first team and led the Vols with eight tackles, two stops for loss, a sack and an interception.

Injured middle linebacker starter Nick Reveiz joked earlier this spring that Johnson "had no business ever being on offense in the first place."

"It's going really good," said Johnson, who was recruiting by several BCS-conference programs as a linebacker. "I'm working really hard. I'm in the film room all the time. Coach Thompson's been really hard on me, and Herman (Lathers) and Nick are really pushing me and helping me learn the system, and I really feel like I'm just kind of molding into the player I want to be."

"I feel a lot like a linebacker again. I'm loving it. You never quite know how it's going to go until you get out there and start doing it, but it's going really good right now. I've just got to keep working and keep getting better. I've still got a lot to learn ... and a long way to go to get where I want to be."

The Vols return to practice Tuesday after being off for Easter weekend. They'll practice four days next week and three times the following week before the Orange and White game on April 17.

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