Chuck Pagano sees a lot of Ed Reed in Bears safety Eddie Jackson — and he’s coached both

After the best season of his career, albeit with a heartbreaking finish, Bears safety Eddie Jackson knows there’s plenty of room to improve.

SHARE Chuck Pagano sees a lot of Ed Reed in Bears safety Eddie Jackson — and he’s coached both
Los Angeles Rams v Chicago Bears

Bears safety Eddie Jackson celebrates after defeating the Los Angeles Rams 15-6 at Soldier Field on Dec. 9.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As he walked off the Bears’ practice field Wednesday, Eddie Jackson laughed when he was asked if it was too soon to be playing football again.

“No,” he said. “It’s too long of a break from it.”

After the best season of his career, albeit with a heartbreaking finish — he earned first-team all-pro honors but missing the final two games of the regular season, and the team’s playoff loss, with a high-ankle ankle sprain — Jackson knows there’s plenty of room to improve.

“Still getting better at tackling,” he said. “Understanding the playbook — it’s a new defensive coordinator with [Chuck Pagano]. So understand that and get everything down pat. Get better at practice.”

And intercept more passes than the six he totaled — two for a touchdown — last season.

“I feel like you can always improve,” he said. “I feel like the bar’s starting to get higher and higher, but I like it. I’m a competitive type of guy. I like to prove people wrong.”

As if Jackson needed any further motivation, here’s a Pro Football Hall of Fame case study: in his second season, Ravens safety Ed Reed intercepted seven passes, returning one for a touchdown, in 2003. Like Jackson did last year, he defended 15 passes, recorded one sack and earned his first Pro Bowl appearance.

The next year, was perhaps the best of Reed’s career, which will culminate in an August Hall of Fame enshrinement: he led the league with nine interceptions and 358 interception return yards in 2004.

By the time Pagano joined the Ravens as the defensive backs coach four years later, Reed was a superstar, having made four Pro Bowls and been named first-team all-pro three times. But he can see a lot of Reed in Jackson.

“From a talent standpoint? Very, very similar,” Pagano said. “Great instincts. Great range. Great ball skills. He’s only three years into it. Ed has a lot more time on task, obviously. He’s got a lot of the same traits. He loves football. He’s a football junkie. And again, the sky’s the limit for a guy like that.

“When you know the defense and you know what you’re doing and then you can spend all your time figuring out the offense and being one step ahead, that’s where he’s got an edge on everybody. He’s very similar to Reed.”

It’s a lofty comparison. But the Bears believe Jackson is on a trajectory to be one of the game’s best safeties for a long time.

Jackson did his part this offseason, when he spent time training at Halas Hall. His ankle didn’t feel back to normal until after the Pro Bowl.

“He had a great year last year — but that was then,” safeties coach Sean Desai said. “He knows that. We’re going to challenge him in a way that we see, and he sees, the small areas he can improve. …

“In this league, it’s about one step and one inch. If you can get him one step faster than he was last year, that could lead to more plays he can make. If you get him one inch closer, than can lead to more plays.”

After a dominating defensive season in 2018, that’s the challenge for not only Jackson, but the rest of the Bears. Deshea Townsend, the team’s new secondary coach, has showed his players a list of team defensive stats, year-to-year, that date back to the start of the century. The numbers prove, he said, how hard it is for the NFL’s best defenses to repeat the feat the next year.

“The most important thing is not to worry about last year,” Townsend said. “That’s last year.”

The goal for Jackson is to make this season just as dominant.

“You see that all around the league: once you stop growing, that’s usually when the league says, or the individual says, ‘It’s time,’” Desai said. “There’s always room to grow for all these guys.”

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