Every­body wants some Ed­die

At the rate he’s scor­ing, WR-turned-DB Jack­son could star for ei­ther side

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - SPORTS - PATRICK FIN­LEY pfin­[email protected]­times.com | @patrick­fin­ley

Af­ter Bears safety Ed­die Jack­son re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion for a 41-yard touch­down on Thanks­giv­ing, then or­ches­trated an end-zone cel­e­bra­tion be­fit­ting the game-chang­ing play, he ran back to the side­line.

“Hey, man,” quar­ter­back Chase Daniel said. “You keep do­ing this and you’re go­ing to be on of­fense here pretty soon.”

There was a time when that was all Jack­son wanted to do. Com­ing out of Boyd An­der­son High School in Laud­erdale Lakes, Flor­ida, he thought he could be a star col­lege re­ceiver.

But when he got to Al­abama, things shifted. “Amari Cooper,” Jack­son said. “I wasn’t needed at all.”

Rather than try to beat out the fu­ture NFL star, Jack­son fo­cused on play­ing cor­ner­back — and, af­ter two years, safety — at the be­hest of head coach Nick Sa­ban, the col­lege game’s fore­most ex­pert on de­fen­sive backs. Jack­son took his ball skills and dy­namic run­ning across the line of scrim­mage. At Al­abama, he set the school record with 303 in­ter­cep­tion re­turn yards and was a dy­namic punt re­turner.

A bro­ken left leg that re­quired in­ser­tion of a rod dur­ing his se­nior year caused him to fall to the fourth round of the 2017 draft, where the Bears chose him No. 112 over­all.

He has started ev­ery game since and is fast be­com­ing one of the NFL’s great ball-hawk­ing safeties and a can­di­date to make his first Pro Bowl — if not All-Pro team — this year. His pick-six Thurs­day was his third in 27 pro games. Only seven NFL teams have more in that span. “Score, man,” Jack­son said. “It’s al­ways to score. It’s not al­ways to get it and be happy with a turnover. You al­ways want to cap­i­tal­ize off six points.”

He has scored five touch­downs, all on de­fense, the last two years. That’s more than Allen Robin­son or Tay­lor Gabriel can claim, and they’re wide re­ceivers. “Think of all the greats who know how to play the ball,” cor­ner­back Prince Amuka­mara said. “The Eric Reids, the Asante Samuels — guys who just go af­ter the ball. For this be­ing Ed­die’s sec­ond year and him play­ing at the level he’s play­ing at, if he keeps play­ing like this, he’s go­ing be rec­og­nized as one of the greats. He’s pick­ing up where he left off in col­lege.”

Cor­ner­back Kyle Fuller can see it in Jack­son, who was on the field as a de­coy for one of­fen­sive play against the Bills.

“He’s spe­cial,” Fuller said. “We knew that com­ing in. He has punt re­turn ex­pe­ri­ence. That shows that you know he has it in him.”

On Thurs­day against the Lions, Jack­son ran from the 49-yard line to the 41, and from the mid­dle of the field to the num­bers, to un­der­cut two re­ceivers try­ing to set picks on him. He jumped Matthew Stafford’s pass to Michael Roberts in the left flat — he said film re­view showed Roberts of­ten ran that route from that for­ma­tion — and waltzed into the end zone.

“I haven’t been around too many guys — or safeties and de­fen­sive backs — that have the aware­ness and in­stincts that he has,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “And then he’s got great ball skills. A lot of times we joke that if these DBs are back there be­cause they can’t catch, he doesn’t fall into that cat­e­gory. This guy could be play­ing some wide re­ceiver.”

He al­most did Thurs­day. Daniel said he wanted to run a par­tic­u­lar play that had Jack­son on of­fense, but Nagy said no be­cause Bears were at the wrong hash mark.

Daniel threw a touch­down pass to Tarik Co­hen in­stead.

“[Jack­son is] im­prov­ing, still — he knows that,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Vic Fan­gio said. “And he’s con­tin­ued to im­prove. He’s a guy that has re­ally good in­stincts and re­ally good foot­ball IQ. He doesn’t panic when he’s out on the field. And when you can com­bine all of that to­gether, you get good re­sults.” Could he play re­ceiver?

Fan­gio smiled and shook his head no. “’Cause,” he said, “I don’t want him to leave.”

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IM­AGES PAUL SAN­CYA/AP

Safety Ed­die Jack­son turns to face the Lions af­ter scor­ing his 41-yard touch­down off an in­ter­cep­tion in the Bears’ Thanks­giv­ing vic­tory.

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