By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS — A little over a week into camp, exactly two of the Bears’ primary safeties have made a play on the ball and come away with an interception. Veteran addition Quintin Demps is one. The other? Why none other than rookie dynamo, Eddie Jackson.
In Demps’ case, the natural ballhawk came in second in the NFL in picks last year with six. The Bears brought the nine-year veteran in to not only stabilize their back-end with experience but to boost a unit that could use a tad more turnovers.
Last year, the Bears intercepted eight paltry passes in total. One of which made by a safety in Harold Jones-Quartey. A dire need filled in well by Demps.
From Jackson’s perspective, he’s the lead cast member. He’s the rookie wonder and wild card.
Jackson’s the player many are already projecting as a future quality starter not only next to Demps, but for years to come. With two interceptions in three practices and a growing role among a returner competition, early indications of most’s original projections are beginning to glow for the former Alabama Crimson Tide star.
Not since the halcyon days of Mike Brown have the Bears had a safety with necessary ball skills that they could trust. There’s always a palpable excitement at having capabilities from a young safety to make game-changing plays. Especially for a franchise like Chicago that’s drafted a safety in 10 of the past 11 years, futilely throwing something continually at a wall until it eventually sticks.
Ultimately, his real test will come in game action later this August, but that doesn’t appear to be a concern at the moment. Jackson’s emergence to stick out among the crowd could have the Bears poised to finally put Brown’s memory on the back burner and potentially possess not one but two ball hawk safeties. Is the world still spinning on its axis?
As Jackson rounds into form, though, it’s important to remember he was limited during OTA’s and mini-camp in the spring. Recovery from a broken leg suffered with the Crimson Tide in the fall will do that. Seeing current results make it look like the Bears took the proper precaution.
Look no further for a ringing progress report on the budding Jackson than from the normally close-to-the-vest John Fox.
“We were just being smart with him in the OTAs,” said coach John Fox. “He wasn’t really ready physically, so we didn’t want any setbacks that way. But he’s a very sharp guy, very aware player, especially for a young guy.”
The real reason Jackson fell to the Bears in the fourth round is health concerns. In his addition to his broken leg suffered last year, the 24-year-old tore his ACL two years ago.. This past misfortune piled onto a player originally projected in the second round who saw his stock summarily fall because of durability worries. It doesn’t matter what kind of talent you have: your best ability is availability and there were serious question marks surrounding Jackson even after being officially drafted by the Bears.
If those injury-laden days are indeed behind him, it appears the Bears’ steal to nab Jackson came at an incredible value. And Fox appreciates his polished collegiate background from one of the best football programs in the country. It’s what’s allowed Jackson to shine instinctively. At this stage of camp, that speaks volumes.
“Kids who come out of Alabama get pretty much a good taste of a pro defense, in particular from a coverage standpoint, Nick [Saban] having been a secondary coach in the NFL for a long time.”
Where the Bears will count on Jackson aside from defensive responsibilities, is in the return game, as the rookie returned two punts for touchdowns in his final year at Alabama. Bringing that dimension to the pro level not only will offer reminders of Brown, but the heyday of Devin Hester as well – a diminutive sample size disregarded.
Fox didn’t mince words in a full-scale comparison of Jackson’s evolved capability on two units.
“I mentioned earlier in camp he’s been a return man and particularly tracking punts. Typically, those guys—going as far back as a guy like Rod Woodson—they have good ball skills and he seems to do that pretty naturally.”
Just uttering the name of Woodson – a Pro Football Hall of Famer and one of the NFL’s best Swiss Army Knives ever – in the same breath for a rookie like Jackson is setting the bar astronomically high. He has yet to suit up for one preseason game and somehow he’s already impressing that well. That confidence is particularly taken into consideration when Fox normally reserves judgment on most if not all young players without game action.
But there seems to be something special about Jackson, who given time, will undoubtedly rise up the Bears’ depth chart at safety. He might be ready for that role sooner than most think, at least if you listen to Fox.
“I think his football maturity level is pretty high, so I think he’ll adapt pretty quickly.”
Robert is your guy for all things Bears and he’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.