By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The Bears hope they may have found an answer to their decade of struggles at safety.
Eddie Jackson wasn’t a prototypical fourth-round pick out of Alabama, falling down the draft as he recovered from a broken leg suffered last October. But the Bears believed in his upside enough to trade up five places in the fourth round to select him.
Early on, the Bears are receiving positive returns on that faith. They’re gaining a trust in Jackson, with coach John Fox now evaluating his fit alongside Quintin Demps in the first-team defense.
“He’s a real good athlete,” Fox said of Jackson. “He’s got a good feel for coverage. He’s got good hands. He tracks the ball well.
“He’s a young guy that’s learning our defense and getting better every week.”
The Bears opened a competition at safety alongside Demps, the veteran signed to a three-year deal this offseason. Demps put together a strong 2016 campaign, recording six interceptions in 13 games for the Texans. The next step for the Bears would be finding his complement.
In Jackson, Chicago is plugging in an athletic player with a knack for finding the football. He can play center field well and is somebody a quarterback must identify.
Demps has certainly been impressed by the rookie Jackson.
“He has all the tools, for sure — all the tools to be a playmaker in this league,” Demps said. “But it’s all mental. Got to get the mental reps in and learn from his mistakes.
“He’s playing really well, getting his hands on some balls. I’m proud of him.”
Jackson’s senior season with the Crimson Tide came to a sudden end last season when he suffered a broken leg returning a punt. He required surgery and spent the offseason recovering. As a result, NFL teams shied away from taking Jackson before the fourth round. The Bears made their move with a trade up to pick No. 112 from No. 117.
Now less than three weeks from the regular-season opener, the Bears haven’t made any declarations at safety. Adrian Amos has been listed as the starter on the depth chart, with the team giving the incumbent the opportunity to hold down his place. Deon Bush has also been in the mix.
But nobody in this competition boasts the upside of Jackson, who recorded six interceptions in 15 games during his junior season. He has consistently flashed in the preseason and looks to be what the Bears had hoped.
In the first days of his first NFL training camp, Jackson set his sights on the starting job.
“Right now,” he said, “I’m ready to go out there and take advantage of the opportunity.”
He now seems closer to earning that place.