Why Bears' Eddie Jackson credits his coverage skills to Amari Cooper

Why Bears' Eddie Jackson credits his coverage skills to Amari Cooper

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.” 

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Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

The 2020 NFL Combine kicks off on February 23, and the Bears will be one of 32 teams in attendance poking and prodding the 337 prospects who will try to run, jump and lift their way to a higher NFL draft grade.

General manager Ryan Pace will do his due diligence on all the players participating, but the Bears are without a first-round pick (again) and as a result, Pace's focus will be tailored to the cluster of prospects who are most likely to slide into Day 2. Chicago has two second-rounders and can upgrade the roster with two potential starters.

One player who should be at or near the top of the Bears' wish list is Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. According to former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, Kmet would be a perfect fit for Chicago in the second round and the prospect they should pay the closest attention to at the combine.

The Bears' biggest need on offense is tight end. There are several guys who would fit well in Matt Nagy's scheme, including Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, but why not aim for the best TE in his class in Kmet?

Kmet certainly checks most of the boxes for an NFL starting tight end. He ended 2019 with 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that aren't a true reflection of his upside as a receiver in the pros. He'll be a classic case of a player who has a more productive NFL career than he had in college.  He's a good athlete who has upside as an inline blocker, too, even though he needs to get stronger to be a truly reliable player in the run game.

Even with some of the deficiencies in Kmet's game, he'd be a massive upgrade over the tight ends currently on the Bears roster like Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Jesper Horsted. He's a virtual lock to come off the board in the second round, so if Pace wants him in Chicago next season, he won't be able to wait long to draft him. In fact, it could require using the Bears' first pick -- No. 43 overall -- to lock him up.

Raiders prepping to set the market for Tom Brady in free agency

Raiders prepping to set the market for Tom Brady in free agency

If the Bears have any interest in signing soon-to-be free-agent quarterback Tom Brady this offseason, they may have to be willing to commit beyond just the 2020 season for him.

According to longtime NFL writer Larry Fitzgerald, Sr., the Las Vegas Raiders are prepping to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's a steep price to pay regardless of Brady's resume largely because of his age; he'll be 43 at the start of next season. It's highly unlikely Ryan Pace would be interested in a multi-year deal for a player as close to the end as Brady, but the market will ultimately dictate what needs to be offered by teams who are serious about acquiring TB12.

If Brady wants to play beyond 2020 and is looking for a commitment from a team that extends into at least the 2021 season, his list of potential suitors is likely to shrink. But all it takes is one club willing to meet his asking price, and with Raiders coach Jon Gruden's affinity for established veteran quarterbacks, it seems like a logical match for both sides.

The Bears are expected to be aggressive in the quarterback market this offseason, whether it's via trade for someone like Bengals veteran Andy Dalton or in free agency with players like Marcus Mariota (Titans) and Teddy Bridgewater (Saints) presenting as attractive options.

Former second overall pick Mitch Trubisky has largely been a disappointment over his first three years in Chicago and is facing a make-or-break season in 2020. There's a chance he won't even begin training camp as the starter, depending on who the Bears court in free agency and the promises they make in order to sign him.