Eddie Jackson expecting big things from Chicago Bears’ defense
BOURBONNAIS -- Perhaps it’s just youthful exuberance when second-year S Eddie Jackson talks about the Bears becoming the best defense in the NFL -- or maybe he’s actually onto something.
By retaining coordinator Vic Fangio and keeping almost everyone from last year’s No. 10 defense (in total yards allowed), the Bears are operating from a position of strength as they look to climb the charts.
After a full year in the system, when he started all 16 games as a rookie, Jackson is one of several promising, young players with the potential to elevate his game to another level and take the defense with him. The 6-foot, 202-pound Jackson demonstrated a propensity for making impact plays on the ball last year, a skill that’s been in short supply for the Bears’ defense in recent seasons.
Despite slipping to the fourth round because of a fractured leg during his final season at Alabama, Jackson led the defense in snaps. He tied for the team lead with two interceptions, one of which he returned 76 yards for a TD, and in the same game returned a fumble 75 yards for a score. His three fumble recoveries were tops on the team, and he was third with 70 tackles.
No NFL team got as much production as the Bears did last year from the fourth round, since they also added RB Tarik Cohen with the 119th overall pick, seven spots after Jackson. Those two have built on that bond, and Cohen is quick to brag on his fellow fourth-rounder.
“The only reason he went that late is because of his injury,” Cohen said. “I tell all my homeboys that he’s really a first-round pick without the injury. His stats prove that.”
But that mutual admiration society doesn’t mean the two don’t get after each other it they’re matched up on the practice field.
“It’s great,” Cohen said, “because when we’re going against each other, it makes us bring out the best. You don’t want your homeboy to have nothing over you that he can bring back to the room and (say), ‘I got you today.’ ”
Although the Bears’ defense was highly rated in several categories last year -- No. 9 in points allowed, No. 7 in passing yards allowed and No. 6 in sack percentage -- there’s room for improvement in the takeaway department. While the Bears led the NFL last year with 14 fumble recoveries, they were just 29th in interception percentage. That’s where Jackson and S running mate Adrian Amos can make a difference, and coach Matt Nagy is giving both plenty of opportunities to hone their takeaway skills in training camp practices.
“They’re doing their role within the defense right now, and when we get into the preseason, we’re hoping that they’re able to punch the ball out on (certain) types of runs, and go ahead and get the ball at the highest point when passes are thrown,” Nagy said. “The more downfield throws that we (make) to our receivers, that also helps the safeties and the DBs. The more you do that, the more practice reps they get, and inevitably it helps them in the game.”
With starting CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara returning as well, the Bears’ secondary should benefit from improved cohesion and communication. With the least experience of the group, Jackson could benefit the most from what he acknowledges is a much better understanding of the defense than he had as a rookie.
“You just get the feel,” he said. “You’ve been in there before. It’s not new (anymore). You can adjust to everything faster. You know how to make adjustments on the field when it’s time. We can freestyle a little bit in the back. Kyle can tell me something like ‘Hey, have me over the top. I’m going to jump this (route).’
“The chemistry we have with each other from last year, everyone is ready to come in and get after it. That’s just the mindset on defense, that we’re going to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL this year.”
Youthful exuberance or veteran realism?
Time will tell.