BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — For Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, the things they need to show during training camp to win a starting job in Week 1 are different and clear.
Jackson needs to prove he can be a physical tackler, a common ding to his game coming out of Alabama. And Amos needs to prove his ball skills have improved after not recording a single interception his first two years in the NFL.
The Bears’ competition to start alongside Quintin Demps at safety isn’t limited to just Jackson and Amos, of course. Also part of that battle: Deon Bush, Harold Jones-Quartey, Chris Prosinski, Deandre Houston-Carson and Deiondre’ Hall. But Jackson (the rangy fourth-round pick who played with Pro Bowlers Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins in Tuscaloosa) and Amos (the third-year pro with 30 career starts) are the headliners of the competition so far.
“You’ve got to earn your spot, earn your keep,” Amos said. “There’s so many good players. It’s probably better that this year there’s a lot more competition. That just shows we’ll have a lot of depth coming forward this year.”
Jackson has flashed early in camp, picking off a handful of passes and showing the strong ball skills that led to nine interceptions during his four years at Alabama. Those have been promising for the 6-foot, 174 pound Jackson, given that his senior year ended last October when he fractured his leg against Tennessee.
“Battling back and seeing, all right, I come back out, I still make plays on the ball — It’s just something fun,” Jackson said. “And just to see the guys, how they react to it and how the coaches react to a turnover here is just big.”
But similar to the Bears’ other fourth-round pick — running back Tarik Cohen — the bigger test for Jackson will come when the Bears begin preseason play on Thursday against the Denver Broncos. That’ll be Jackson’s first chance to truly let loose and show that he can be more physical than he was in college.
“We’ll just have to see him tackle,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We can’t afford to have anyone out there that can’t tackle, so tackling will be a determinant factor for him.”
“I just got to come here, be real physical and that’s something I can say I’ve really been working day in and day-out at practice, especially since pads come on,” Jackson said. “Everyone’s been taking notice.”
Amos, on the other hand, has been a serviceable starter but hasn’t shown good ball skills. To put his interception drought another way: He’s played over 1,800 snaps with the Bears and hasn’t picked off a pass.
For a defense that only had 11 takeaways, Amos’ lack of interceptions and ball skills is a glaring problem. So what can Bears coaches do?
“Just throw him a thousand balls,” Fangio said. “Throw him a thousand balls that are realistic, not just playing catch. Breaking off the deep zone and breaking to the sideline and catching the ball. Breaking on an inside cut. Just trying to throw him as many balls as possible that are realistic. Playing catch isn’t going to get it done. You’ve got to make it football like during the game.”