Eddie Jackson Sees a Rapid Reboot for Bears Secondary
Eddie Jackson can't wait to start thinking about the safety position rather than safety protocols.
Jackson has been through three NFL seasons and knows the key for the Bears' defense to pull together again in this COVID-19 era after changing personnel at two of the five starting defensive back positions.
"One thing about our group of guys is we have good chemistry and everyone's a special type of guy, " Jackson said. "No one, I feel like, is too big."
Safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson would be the favorites to win the vacant starting spots but anything can happen if the chemistry develops better with other players.
The chemistry has to be built first, though, and it can't be done through the internet. Former Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara always called it a matter of communication rather than chemistry.
This starting Bears secondary will be 40% different than last year and had no offseason work to pull it together. The communication can't be good at the outset.
They had to replace two members of the secondary last year in Pagano's first Bears season and did it, although the pass coverage obviously suffered with 17 fewer interceptions and a passer rating against almost 15 points higher than when they led the league in 2018 at 72.9.
If they can get the pass rush back to where it was before Akiem Hicks' elbow injury, it can assist the secondary in its task.
"With that rush and that front seven, it's always going to include and have opportunities on the back end. Everybody knows the thing that prides us most is we truly want to make sure we can get our hands on the ball," Gipson said. "That's the biggest thing right now, and obviously that's one of the things we talked about when I signed here, was ball awareness and turnovers, man."
Jackson remains confident the level of play can elevate despite lack of offseason work.
"For us, we're gonna pick up right where we left off, but more better," Jackson said. "We're gonna get better at a lot of different things. We need to get better in the defensive backs room
"All of that really starts with building relationships with guys."
When they finally do get back together, at least it will be the second year under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
"It just gives us more comfort," Jackson said. "We've been in it one year so we kind of know what to expect from it and everyone knows their job and different guys' roles.
"One thing I like about coach Chuck and the way they're teaching it, they're teaching everyone different positions so you can know the jobs of the man next to you."
The difference when players know the other's assignment is they know where their help in coverage on a particular play exists.
"I feel like this Year 2 is gonna be amazing for our defense, just being here, already understanding guys' positions and where your help is, that helps you play more freely," Jackson said. "That's probably the biggest thing."
The problem is, the safety who starts alongside Jackson and the starting right cornerback will not have those advantages of a second year in the Pagano system. Or at least, they might not have them.
If Kevin Toliver II wins starting right cornerback over Johnson, former Steeler Artie Burns and former CFL player Tre Roberson, then there will be no communication problems because he has played enough in the defense in two years to know it better than the others.
The same is true if Deon Bush were to win the other starting safety spot, but bringing in a veteran like Gipson would seem to lessen Bush's chances.
Gipson's experience could be a help in the communication part and picking up the defense.
"You know, just him being a vet and in the league nine years man, and the knowledge he has and I'm pretty sure he played alongside a lot of different guys," Jackson said.
The competition is what GM Ryan Pace and Bears coach Matt Nagy are counting on to elevate play.
"I know people are like, 'oh yeah, it's open competition at the strong safety position,' " Jackson said. "But I feel like every position is up for grabs. The next-best man wins.
"I'm just ready to get back to competing with those guys, honestly."
And to building the chemistry needed for a strong defense.