Eddie Jackson

Why the Bears believe Eddie Jackson is up for the challenge

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USA TODAY

Why the Bears believe Eddie Jackson is up for the challenge

Eddie Jackson has played in big games before. Two Iron Bowls, two SEC Championships, two College Football Playoff semifinals and a College Football Playoff final (which he won) are on his resume from four years at Alabama. 

“That was college,” Jackson matter-of-factly said. “This is the NFL.”

Jackson is atop the Bears’ unofficial Week 1 depth chart and is in line to start in his regular season debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Watching Jackson during preseason play, it’s easy to forget 111 players were drafted before the Bears took him in the fourth round in April. His range and ball skills quickly translated to the NFL level and make him an intriguing part of a re-vamped secondary hoping to make more plays than last year’s group did (eight interceptions). 

While plenty of preseason hype has centered around offensive players in Mitchell Trubisky and Tarik Cohen, Jackson is lined up for the biggest role of any Bears rookie this year. 

“He’s just smart, man,” fellow safety Quintin Demps said. “He hasn’t had many (mental errors), and Vic Fangio’s defense is very, very difficult. For a rookie to come in and pick that up man. It just shows a lot about his IQ as a football player.”

Jackson’s football intelligence has been a frequent point of praise for the 6-foot, 201 pound safety. He described Fangio’s system as “complicated at times,” but Jackson adapted to a complex defense at Alabama that's helped him adjust to whatever Fangio's thrown at him over the last few months. 

“I think for any rookie to come in and earn a starting position regardless of position I think, it speaks to that (intelligence),” coach John Fox said. “I think how hard they work, their work ethic, what their football acumen is, and how fast they adjust. I think Eddie has got a good background and obviously has a good football IQ. And that’s what enables guys to come in and learn and grasp and execute under pressure.”

Jackson nearly had an acrobatic one-handed interception against the Arizona Cardinals last month, settling for a pass break-up but showing those ball skills the Bears believe can immediately help the secondary. His first true test will come against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and a Falcons offense that ranked No. 1 in scoring last year (33.8 points per game), but the Bears are confident Jackson and his veteran counterpart can succeed when the snaps start mattering on Sunday. 

“What we saw in the draft is his ball skills jump out right away, but he’s got natural instincts and anticipation,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “That’s something back there that we’ve been looking for a while now, and I think he pairs really well with Demps. We kinda got the savvy vet with Demps and the emerging rookie with Jackson. But you can just see him anticipate routes, break on things early and just have a great feel and natural instincts back there.

“Like this whole rookie class in general, it’s not too big for him. He plays with a confidence and swagger that’s refreshing to see in a young player.” 

Rookie review: How the Bears' 2017 draft class fared in its first preseason

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AP

Rookie review: How the Bears' 2017 draft class fared in its first preseason

This year’s crop of Bears rookies has, for the most part, impressed over the last month. There are a handful of immediate contributors and a couple of players who, with a little more time, could be key parts of the long-term turnaround Ryan Pace hopes to engineer. 

A look at the five players the Bears drafted, plus that one undrafted free agent who opened plenty of eyes in July and August:

QB Mitchell Trubisky (1st round, No. 2 overall)
Stats: 36/53 (67.9 percent), 364 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 106.2 QB rating

It’s hard to imagine Trubisky’s preseason going better than it did, save for those head-scratching passes he threw at the end of Thursday night’s preseason finale. Over the course of a heap of practice reps and four games, Trubisky sped up his timeline to make his regular season debut — in other words, he looked more ready to play than expected. 

Trubisky still needs to refine his pre-snap operation of the Bears’ offense, but he’s made strides in taking snaps under center (remember when that was an issue?) and reading defenses. There was no doubt from the moment the Bears drafted Trubisky that he’d be their quarterback of the future, but he showed over the last month that future can come sooner rather than later. 

TE Adam Shaheen (2nd round, No. 45 overall)
Stats: 6 receptions, 37 yards

Shaheen entered training camp having impressed during OTAs and minicamp, looking like a guy who could make an immediate difference in the red zone. But how big an impact he could make as a rookie was always going to be determined by how he fared when the pads came on. 

What those padded practices and games showed, though, is that the hulking 6-foot-6, 270 pound tight end from Division II Ashland still needs more time. Shaheen's invisibility in practices and games, and inclusion on special teams units, is a good indication of where he stands going into the season. He can still carve out a role if he makes strides in practice, but he’s squarely behind Zach Miller and Dion Sims on the Bears’ depth chart. 

S Eddie Jackson (4th round, 112th overall)
Stats: 2 tackles, 1 pass defended

No rookie will have a greater opportunity than Jackson, who looks in line to start at free safety Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons. The rangy Alabama product was frequently around the ball in Bourbonnais and nearly picked off a pass against the Arizona Cardinals. 

Jackson’s ball skills are what this turnover-strapped secondary needs, though questions about his physicality cropped up after he and Quintin Demps combined to whiff on tackling Taywan Taylor against the Titans for a big-chunk play on Sunday. 

RB Tarik Cohen (4th round, 119th overall)
Stats: 19 carries, 121 yards (6.4 yards per carry)

Few players improved their stock more during the last month than Cohen, who impressed not only with his quickness but with how hard the 5-foot-6, 181 pound running back ran. His 11-carry, 77-yard game against Arizona was an eye-opener, showing that Cohen could be more than a threat on third downs. 

Still, if the Bears use him as a change-of-pace guy on third down to start the season, he showed during the preseason he can make an immediate impact. He should get some work on kick and/or punt returns, too. And this is worth noting: Cohen didn’t catch a pass in three preseason games, leaving a solid area of his game untapped (and not on film to opponents). 

OL Jordan Morgan (5th round, 147th overall)
Stats: 4 games played

Morgan played with the backup offensive line and was as advertised — a former Division II player who will need time to transition to the NFL. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bears keep him on the 53-man roster or try to stash him on their practice squad over the weekend.

Tanner Gentry (undrafted)
Stats: 4 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD

Gentry very well could be one of the guys who played his way onto the 53-man roster with a highly productive preseason — both in games and practice — and willingness to be on special teams. He out-played the likes of Victor Cruz (6 catches, 28 yards, 1 TD) and Titus Davis (4 catches, 52 yards) and quickly developed a good rapport with Trubisky. 

That Gentry mainly stuck with the second/third-team offense — and didn’t get much work with Mike Glennon — could be a sign he might not survive cut-down day, though. He didn’t record a reception or a target in Thursday night’s loss to Cleveland, but did get plenty of special teams work throughout the game. 

The bigger question with Gentry is: Would the receiver-thin Bears really want to risk losing him to another team by trying to sneak him onto their practice squad? That we’re asking this question about an undrafted free agent is a good sign for Gentry, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good enough sign that he’ll make the initial 53-man roster.  

Undrafted free agents who could be practice squad fodder: WR Alton Howard, RB Josh Rounds, FB Freddie Stevenson, LB Isaiah Irving, OL Brandon Greene, OL Mitchell Kirsch, OL Dieugot Joseph, DL Rashaad Coward

Kush and tushes, picking up the energy: Six takeaways from Monday Bears camp

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USA TODAY

Kush and tushes, picking up the energy: Six takeaways from Monday Bears camp

1. From Kush to Tush: Bad news on the injury front, as swing guard/center Eric Kush has been lost for the season after surgery to repair a torn hamstring. While Kyle Long still isn't full-go in his recovery from ankle surgery, center Cody Whitehair played a handful of snaps back at the position he was drafted for, guard, and replaced by Hroniss Grasu. That led to Mike Glennon being asked about adjusting to a new center. The first points that came to mind: snap speed, and "butt placement."  Ask a question, and Glennon answers.

2. Not-so-funny Glennon: At one point early in Monday's practice, Glennon called the offense around him. "I just felt we weren't off to a good start. Coming off an off-day., sometimes it takes a little while to get going and I just thought it would be a good idea to group everyone together and kind of pick up that energy because we weren't really good the first period. I thought we responded well after that."

3. One on one: As Adam Shaheen continues working on his blocking skills and strengthening his base, he was directly isolated in drills where tight ends are matched up versus outside linebackers. The 6'6, 270-lb. rookie was pushed steadily backwards by 6'4, 251-lb. Leonard Floyd, also a testament to how last year's top pick has increased his strength.

4. Passing games: On a day several defensive backs came oh-so-close to interceptions, including a drop by Prince Amukamara with an open field in front of him, quarterbacks threaded the needle just out of defenders' reach. Marcus Cooper was inches away twice versus Cam Meredith. But the latter held on after a good pop over the middle from Eddie Jackson. Mitch Trubisky fumbled a snap, and on the next play, rolled right under pressure and dropped a perfect in-the-bucket pass into the outstretched hands of a diving Ben Braunecker. Later in red zone drills, he stepped up in the pocket under pressure, found Ka`Deem Carey open in the end zone. The pass deflected off Carey into the arms of Rueben Randle. Mark Sanchez had the prettiest throw of the day, 40-plus yards down the sideline to Tanner Gentry, who got behind Kyle Fuller.

5. Punt return games: It's a fun "concentration" drill to watch for the returners: catch, then hold on to each football caught while another comes your way, until you can't. Rookies Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson both collected four, but couldn't quite hang on to a fifth, as both tried to estimate where the fifth would come down, plant themselves, and stick one football between their knees in hopes of getting that fifth. I dunno - under the jersey instead next time?

6. Cutty Love: From John Fox, to Glennon, to Zach Miller, all the Bears who were asked about Jay Cutler were happy for him as he came out of retirement this weekend to come to the Dolphins' rescue. Miller said he remained in contact with his former quarterback throughout the decision-making process, finalized when he texted Miller "I'm doing it."  And think of this: while the Bears open versus Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the Dolphins' early schedule has the makings for a strong start. They open by hosting the Buccaneers, then have road games versus the Chargers and Jets before facing the Saints in London.