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Bears’ Eddie Jackson embraces pinch-hitting role in slot

“You play closer to the line — it’s like you’re more involved,” Jackson said Wednesday.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson breaks up a pass in Seattle on Sunday.
Bears safety Eddie Jackson breaks up a pass in Seattle on Sunday.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

In the last big game the Bears played — in the playoffs against the Saints — they moved safety Eddie Jackson to slot cornerback on some passing downs. When they needed someone big in Week 5 to combat Raiders all-world tight end Darren Waller, they did the same thing.

It took a whiff of desperation to bring the strategy back. When injuries decimated the Bears at cornerback, Jackson jumped into the slot mid-game against the Packers. After he — and the rest of the Bears’ starting defensive backfield — sat out the Vikings game because of coronavirus protocols, Jackson served as the nickel cornerback at times Sunday against the Seahawks.

“You play closer to the line — it’s like you’re more involved,” Jackson said Wednesday. “You get more targets, chances to make plays. And it’s really nothing special, just going out there and winning your leverage and playing off of instincts, reacting and stuff. And it’s fun honestly. You know, I like playing with it.”

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai liked Jackson’s veteran savvy in the situation, while defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said playing Jackson in the slot allowed the team to get another safety on the field. That physicality helps against both the run and pass.

Asked whether it was something he could do in the future, Jackson was direct.

“I embrace the role of playing it, being able to switch it up,” said Jackson, who played both cornerback and safety at Alabama. “So I would hope so.”

Anything that would add to Jackson’s value would be welcomed by the Bears’ next coach, whomever he may be. Despite being the fifth-highest paid safety in the league — Jackson got $33 million in practical guarantees, per Spotrac — he hasn’t had an interception since signing his contract extension in January 2020.

“I haven’t made the plays that I want to make,” he said. “The goals I set this year, haven’t been able to do that, put the numbers up that I wanted to . . . My focus is, like I told the team, these last five [games], I’m going to give it all I got. I don’t want nobody questioning my effort.”

Jackson’s tackling has been subject to question all season, though it has been better in the second half. Ironically, one reason Jackson had to play slot against the Packers was because his own errant tackle caused cornerback Xavier Crawford to suffer a concussion.

“[The season] just didn’t go how I wanted it to,” Jackson said. “But you just continue to learn off these things, these types of seasons, these types of games. You learn about adversity. It points that back in your head and lets you know you’ve gotta continue to come out and work harder and get better.

“That’s the thing — that’s the true thing about the NFL. You just gotta continue to come out and keep fighting, week in and week out.”

Even if it’s out of position. Over the last two games of the season — starting Sunday against the Giants — Jackson figures to get more chances to work on his new skill set.

It might come in handy next season.

“I’m not scared to go down and press or challenge nobody,” Jackson said. “So I’m with it. I like it.”