Tight end Adam Shaheen is the most intriguing rookie at Bears training camp not named Mitch Trubisky. And running back Tarik Cohen is the most exciting. But safety Eddie Jackson looks like the one with the best chance to win a starting job and give the Bears an upgrade at a problematic position in 2017.
While incumbent starter Adrian Amos currently holds that spot heading into Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Broncos at Soldier Field, Jackson, the fourth-round pick from Alabama, appears on pace to eventually win that job.
He’s got a lot going for him. He played at Alabama, where the complexities of the defensive scheme are similar to the NFL. (Alabama players are hit-and-miss in the NFL, but the last two safeties drafted in the first two rounds both made the Pro Bowl last season — Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix with the Packers in 2014 and Landon Collins with the Giants in 2015). He played four seasons of college football. He’s motivated after dropping to the fourth round of the draft following a broken leg last October.
“My teammates and coaches, I don’t want to let them down,” he said. “They took a chance on me, drafting me after a bad injury when a lot of teams didn’t.”
And perhaps most of all, he’ll be playing behind a front seven that should be pretty stout, especially if linebacker Danny Trevathan and nose tackle Eddie Goldman are healthy. That could produce opportunities in the secondary — and Jackson already has shown the ability to take advantage of opportunities.
Jackson, who will turn 25 on Dec. 10, has more maturity and polish going for him than most rookies. Instead of taking the biggest knock on him — his tackling — as an insult, he’s accepted the constructive criticism and embraced the challenge of turning a weakness into a strength.
“That was something that a lot of people were second-guessing,” Jackson said. “I’ve got to be real physical and that’s something I’ve really been working [on] day-in and day-out at practice — especially since pads came on. Everyone’s been taking notice.”
Jackson had a slow start in the offseason program while recovering from the broken leg he suffered on a punt return in October. But he’s already feeling comfortable in the defense. His background at Alabama is paying off.
“That’s a big thing you hear around here — when guys leave ‘Bama, especially on the defensive side of the ball, they adjust very well when they go to the NFL,” Jackson said. “I agree with that, because we run a tough scheme at Alabama. There’s a lot of formation changes, shifts and things like that. So when you come here, you’re used to things, looking at four-man weak, strong side … you just take that into consideration and put that in the back of your head and just keep moving forward.”
Jackson still has a lot to prove. “We’ll just have to see him tackle,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We can’t afford to have anyone out there that can’t tackle, so tackling will be a determinant factor for him.”
It’s likely that it will be easier to develop Jackson into a tackler than it will be to turn Amos into a ballhawk. Amos still is the starter. But Jackson has the momentum. Unless he is a liability as a tackler, his anticipation and his knack for being around the ball and making plays will be hard to pass up. It might only be a matter of time.
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