Eddie Jackson hit a make-or-break moment right away when he arrived at Alabama. He went there because he wanted to compete against the best, and he got what he asked for immediately.
He’s an all-pro safety for the Bears now, but he played corner in college. That meant he’d have to cover Amari Cooper, a talent so overwhelming that he put up a 1,000-yard season as a freshman.
It did not go well for Jackson.
Cooper destroyed him over and over until Jackson finally surrendered. He turned around and pleaded for mercy from a man not exactly known for possessing that quality: Nick Saban.
“Don’t look back at me, Eddie,” Saban yelled. “I’m not gonna take him off your [butt].”
Cooper chimed in with, “Mess with me and I’m gonna make you live.”
That’s the PG-rated version Jackson gave Saturday. It was much worse in real life. But Jackson embraced the challenge. After months of Cooper destroying him in practice, Jackson finally reached his level.
“Going into spring ball after my freshman year, that’s when everything came and I was like, ‘Alright, I got him,’” Jackson said. “We’d go do one-on-ones, and now it was going tit for tat. It used to be Amari, Amari, Amari. Now it’s Amari, Eddie, Amari, Eddie. He helped me build and get me polished to be able to cover.
“Coach Saban put me in that fire early. He knew going up against Coop was going to bring the best out of me, and it did. Going up against a guy like that every day in practice, man, it’s a challenge. It’s definitely a challenge. But in the end it all pays off.”
They’ll relive those battles Thursday, when the Bears host the Cowboys in a high-stakes game for both sides.
Other than Jackson moving to safety, not much has changed. Cooper is closing in on 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time in five NFL seasons.
Coming from Alabama, Jackson faces former teammates all the time. They usually trade jerseys, and he’s already got them from Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster and Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. He’s looking to add Cooper’s on Thursday.
“It’s fun,” Jackson said. “It’s competitive, just from us sharing a field. Now we’re on opposite sidelines. It’s a little chitter-chatter here and there, but it’s all love at the end of the game. You really get to see how it feels being on the other side and seeing how opponents felt in college.”