Bears safety Eddie Jackson knows how last year looked. He saw it just as clearly as you did.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the best at all,” he said after Thursday’s final voluntary minicamp practice at Halas Hall. “I think that’s probably one of my worst seasons. I gave up too many deep balls. Just trying to eliminate that. The little things with your eyes, breaking on the ball, attention to details. Little things, little fixes that you could make.”
You could make a similar case for Jackson’s 2020 season, too. An opportunistic player that once embodied the Bears’ NFL-best defense turned into someone who struggled to make tackles and explosive plays.
Consider this: In the three years before Jackson signed a four-year, $58.4 million contract extension to stay with the Bears in January 2020, he had 15 takeaways — 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries. In the two years since the contract extension: no interceptions, one fumble recovery.
Jackson is one of the last vestiges of the Bears’ dominant 2018 defense — he and linebacker Roquan Smith are the only two starters left on the roster.The man that drafted Jackson and signed him to his extension, former GM Ryan Pace, is gone, too. Jackson is the only member of Pace’s once-ballyhooed 2017 draft class still at Halas Hall. The safety might be playing somewhere else, too, butthe Bears would have had to pay $24.6 million in dead cap money had they released him this offseason.
Jackson can benefit from new head coach Matt Eberflus’ new defensive scheme, which, over the last four years in Indianapolis, produced the second-most turnovers in the NFL. If he doesn’t, Jackson might not be around longer. Jackson’s dead cap charge shrinks to $9.6 million next year; his new GM, Ryan Poles, doesn’t have the same attachment to him that Pace did.
Eberflus liked what he saw during the Bears’ three-day voluntary minicamp. For one, Jackson participated on two of three days –other veterans, like cornerback Jaylon Johnson and edge rusher Robert Quinn, didn’t practice at all.
“I can see it in [Jackson’s] attitude and his demeanor,” Eberflus said. “I could see it in his eyes when I talk to him –that he is energized and he sees it as a fresh start for him. I can see it in his practice, too, just the way he’s carrying himself. He’s been great in the meetings and he’s been great on the practice field.”
Jackson thinks Eberflus’ base Cover 2 scheme will help him keep the ball in his line of sight.
“It’s probably a lot simpler,” said Jackson, who is playing for his third coordinator in as many years. “It’s not too much ‘Eyes here, eyes there.’ You just see what’s in front of you and play. … Just seeing what’s … breaking in front of your eyes, not in 1,000 places.”
Now the Bears need him to make those plays. Pro Football Focus last year ranked him 66th among safeties — alarming, considering there are only 64 starters league-wide.
“That’s what I want to get back to, is, making those plays,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest thing for me is, just go out there flying around and lead my guys. That’s by playing good, making plays and getting back to how you know you’re capable of playing.”
Jackson said he needs to control what he can. That includes his effort, execution and willingness to embrace the new defense.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “I’m willing to buy in. Whatever it takes. Whatever they ask of me, I’m willing to do it.”