Oct. 22, 2016: Alabama safety Eddie Jackson’s season, and with it his college career, came to an end after he suffered a broken leg in a win over Texas A&M.
I just want to say thank you to everyone for checking on me and all the prayers all I know is how to bounce back...God Is In Control💯🙏🏾RTR!!— Eddie Jackson (@EJackson_4) October 23, 2016
Oct. 22, 2017: Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson became the first defensive player ever to have two turnover-return touchdowns of 75 yards or more in an NFL game in a win over the Carolina Panthers.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The Bears’ defense is so hot right now, getting the takeaways that eluded them last season, making the lives of opposing quarterbacks a living hell and keeping opposing offenses completely out of the end zone.
Sunday, Jackson became the breakout star of a defensive renaissance that’s returning “Monsters of the Midway” status to this unit. In the first quarter, he picked up a Panthers fumble and ran back 75 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, he came down with a tipped Cam Newton pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s like germs,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said of his rookie teammate, “he’s everywhere.”
Most folks believed the Bears made a very good pick by selecting the Crimson Tide safety in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but of course there were injury-related questions after the broken leg brought a premature end to his college career just a few months prior.
Well, any doubts have since been wiped away, with Jackson earning a starting spot in the revamped Bears secondary out of training camp and then starring Sunday with two of the biggest plays the Bears’ defense has made all season.
Defensive plays like that, defensive takeaways, defensive points. Those are things that weren’t in abundance last season. Fast forward to now, and Jackson and his teammates are writing a brand-new script.
“That was something that we came into this year with on our mind, was getting more turnovers, especially in the secondary, forcing more turnovers,” Jackson said. “We always knew, whoever forces the first turnover, then they’re going to start rolling in. (Adrian) Amos told me before the game, ‘I told my dad you were going to get one today,’ and it happened.
“That’s just how it works: We force one and they just keep coming.”
That Bears secondary, of course, looks a lot different than it did a season ago, when the team ranked second from the bottom in the NFL in interceptions. A key cog in the remodel was Jackson, who despite his lack of NFL experience has brought plenty of experience from as successful a football program as you’ll find at any level.
All that winning in Tuscaloosa — three straight SEC titles, three straight trips to the College Football Playoff and a national title to cap the 2015 season — has given Jackson a unique perspective, one that’s proving quite valuable to this Bears defense.
“He has fun playing ball, and you like that college-like funness that he brings to the game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think it started at his college, his mindset coming from Alabama. He’s actually teaching some of us, telling some of us how it was at Alabama. And that’s a winning program, so I think that adds to our defense.
“He really just preaches: ‘Don’t settle, keep wanting more.’ And we’ve been carrying that out onto the field.”
Jackson didn’t even realize that his monster day came on the one-year anniversary of his collegiate injury, expressing surprise when informed of that during his postgame press conference before waving off the notion that his comeback has been that big a deal.
“I’ve dealt with adversity before, and that’s one thing I can credit Alabama on,” he said. “They help you fight through adversity. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life, so that was just a little minor stepping stone. I came here (to the Bears), it’s a great organization, great training staff and great teammates. So they did a great job keeping me up, keeping me going.”
While he brushed off his comeback from that injury, it’s still obviously on his mind. The pinned tweet at the top of his Twitter page references his return from that broken leg.
Tough Times Don't Last Tough People Do...💯— Eddie Jackson (@EJackson_4) October 27, 2016
Jackson’s coaches and teammates have seen what he can do for a while now, the obvious reason that the fourth-rounder was a starter out of camp. But now he’s broken out, showing Bears fans and football fans across the country the type of big playmaker he is.
“He’s a tremendous young guy as well as a young player,” head coach John Fox said. “I think we saw it early on. … Eddie showed those things to the coaching staff and to his teammates early on, and now you all get to see it.”
So as the Bears defense continues to look more and more like Bears defenses of old, fans can expect Jackson to continue to be in the right place at the right time. And next time, they’ll have a similar reaction to the one Trevathan had when he saw Jackson come up with the ball on Sunday.
Asked what he was thinking, Trevathan pointed forward toward the imaginary end zone and replied with a certain cartoon bird’s instantly recognizable catchphrase.