In Eddie Jackson, Bears coach Matt Nagy sees safety who can ‘do it all’

Bears safety Eddie Jackson holds grudges. He apparently isn’t over what was said about him before the draft last year.

But consider Jackson’s bitterness a positive. Just ask him about what he proved during his rookie season last year.

“Just my tackling,” Jackson said this week during organized team activities. “A lot of people were doubting me on tackling, saying I was a finesse tackler or a finesse player.”

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Bears safety Eddie Jackson. (Getty Images)

Those criticisms of Jackson still can be found with a quick Google search. “Finesse” is the key word.

NFL.com’s draft evaluation described him as “an average NFL backup” who has “decent instincts and good ball skills but [has] a finesse mentality as a tackler relative to those around him.”

Bleacher Report called Jackson “a finesse player without great physicality at the point of attack and has little interest in getting physical with blockers or ball-carriers.”

A year later, Jackson is considered a building block for a young Bears defense that finished 10th in total yards and seventh against the pass last season. 

“It’s not last year,” Jackson said. “We want to be No. 1. That’s our goal.”

Defensive coaches are stressing the importance of making interceptions this season. And that’s where Jackson comes in. 

The Bears consider Jackson an important part of their plan to build their defense through the middle, which now includes rookie linebacker Roquan Smith behind brutes Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman.

Jackson’s tackling issues showed up during his rookie season — see the Bears’ ugly 31-3 loss against the Eagles — but he had 53 solo tackles (per coach reviews), two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and six pass breakups. He also had an unforgettable performance in a 17-3 win against the Panthers, scoring on a 75-yard interception return and a 76-yard fumble recovery. 

Overall, Jackson, an Alabama product, rewarded the Bears’ decision to trade up for him in the fourth round last year and then some.

“I would say for Eddie, give a lot of credit to our college scouts for the research that went into him,” general manager Ryan Pace said before the draft last month. “He had been coming off an injury [broken leg], but his makeup, football IQ, his leadership, those are from our college scouts. [They’re] kind of the boots on the ground, digging all that information up.

“We can sit in here and watch the film and see the physical talent, but what makes Eddie a great player is a lot of those intangible traits that he has. And that goes to our college scouts without question.”

As coach Matt Nagy examined his new players on film, he came away impressed with Jackson’s play as a rookie. 

“A fourth-round kid that reminds me of a player that can do it all,” Nagy said. “He can hit. He has great ball skills. He has good speed and is smart. As a rookie last year for him coming into his own, and this year being a second-year guy to play, we want him to get a little bit better from last year.”

In Nagy’s experience, rookies who have an “alpha” mentality typically take the field early on and excel. Jackson did that.

“We all try to be one,” Jackson said. “I’m working up there.”

The Bears made decisions that will aid Jackson this season. Not only did Nagy retain defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell, but for the first time under Pace, the entire starting secondary returns from the previous season.

“It feels great,” Jackson said. “That was one of the things that we were stressing about all offseason, being a rookie, then coming in here for a second year wondering if your coaches were going to change. Then everybody came back. It was a relief.”

Why is that?

“We just know our future’s bright,” Jackson said.

So is Jackson’s specifically.

“I’m just ready to come in here working,” he said. “I’m really excited for the season we’re about to have.”