When the Dallas Cowboys arrive at Soldier Field on Thursday night, Bears safety Eddie Jackson will have a keen knowledge of what Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper can do.
That’s because getting roasted by Cooper as an underclassman while both were at Alabama taught Jackson how to play in coverage, and was a springboard to an NFL career already including All-Pro honors.
The way Jackson tells it, Cooper was “killing me” during one practice, to the point the now-Bears safety turned around to look at coach Nick Saban with an alright-I-get-it expression.
“(Saban yelled) ‘don’t look back at me, Eddie! I’m not gonna take him off you!’” Jackson recalled, doing his best impression of Saban. “… And then Coop told me, ‘mess with me and I’m gonna make you live.’ It really was him that really got my coverage skills good like this.”
It was a “welcome to Alabama” moment for Jackson, who was a rising sophomore at the time. But it’s how Alabama sifts through all the talented players who are recruited to play there — either you can’t cut it or get better from those practices challenges, like the one Jackson faced.
And after a few times of getting burned by Cooper, Jackson started to figure things out.
“We’d go do one-on-ones, now I was going tit-for-tat,” Jackson said. “It used to be Amari, Amari, Amari now it’s Amari, Eddie, Amari, Eddie. He helped me build and get me polished to be able to cover.”
Cooper is in the midst of arguably his best season in the NFL, with 971 yards on 64 catches (15.2 yards/reception). Covering him will be a challenge for Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller and the Bears’ entire secondary, Jackson included.
“He can do a lot of different things — route running, he’s fast, he can stretch the field vertically,” Jackson said. “Good release guy and knows how to drop his weight and shift in and out of routes pretty good. … He’s a guy we gotta bring it every play.”
The NFL talent on Alabama when Jackson was there (2013-2016) is staggering, with eight first round picks (Cooper, linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, center Ryan Kelly, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, defensive end Jonathan Allen, tight end O.J. Howard and linebacker Reuben Foster). Not every talented player who goes to Alabama makes it, though, partly because of the sort of practice challenges Saban puts his players through early in their careers.
Jackson went through one of those tests and emerged a better player because of those days going against Cooper.
“Coach Saban put me in that fire early,” Jackson said. “I feel like he knew going up against Coop was going to bring the best out of me. It did, all honestly speaking, going up against a guy like that every day in practice, it’s a challenge. It’s definitely a challenge. But in the end it all pays off.”