Bears

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

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.

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.

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.

“Beep beep!”

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.