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Bears safety Eddie Jackson celebrates his touchdown after he ran back a Matthew Stafford interception on Sunday. } Leon Halip/Getty Images

Eddie Jackson ‘could be playing some WR,’ but he’s dominating at safety instead

SHARE Eddie Jackson ‘could be playing some WR,’ but he’s dominating at safety instead
SHARE Eddie Jackson ‘could be playing some WR,’ but he’s dominating at safety instead

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.”

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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.”

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