“Here comes Stafford.. and he’s picked off! And it’s going the distance! Eddie Jackson, for the fifth time in his young career, has a touchdown!”
Is it healthy that I could type that quote, which is Jim Nantz’s call of Jackson’s Thanksgiving Pick-Six in Detroit, purely from memorization? Absolutely not, but A. It’s a really good call and B. That was probably my favorite play of the entire season, which is why I watched it so many times. Manned up on the tight end, Jackson recognized the play before it started and it was all over from there.
— Jack Soble (@jacksobleTLS) June 27, 2019
Jackson, arguably football’s best safety last season, has a new running mate in 2019 who has pulled a reverse Darth Vader – he fell out of favor with the dark side and turned to the good side. How he acclimates to Chicago may determine if the Bears’ defense can take them even further than it did a year ago.
Here is a complete preview of the Bears’ safeties.
Will be stashed on the practice squad: Stephen Denmark
Camp depth: Doyin Jibowu
Many fans and analysts expected some sort of a breakout 2018 season from Jackson. I’m not sure any anticipated what actually happened.
Jackson picked off six passes and would have had more, had he not turned an ankle attempting to run back the last one. His instincts allow him to be a ball magnet, getting a better jump at the release point than any other player.
The Alabama alum thrives in a single-high or two-deep safety role, which is what most fans know best about his game, but he’s equally effective as a robber (translation: someone who sits underneath, usually in front of Cover-1 or Cover-3, ready to jump in front of a throw and pick it off) or in man. He truly does everything in pass coverage well, and enters the year as a true superstar.
Opposite Jackson is Clinton-Dix, his teammate in Tuscaloosa for a year. With better offers elsewhere, he chose to bet on himself and come to Chicago after four and a half years with the Packers and a short, unsuccessful stint in DC. HaHa brings serious flaws as a player, most stemming from being nowhere near as physical as he used to be. He does not tackle well and can shy away from contact on close plays in coverage, all of which prompted fans in Green Bay to turn on him and the front office followed suit.
Many of his shortcomings, however, can be forgiven by his knack for the football. Clinton-Dix amassed 14 interceptions in his five years in the league, and he’s good for almost a strip per season as well. It remains to be seen how the good and bad of his skillset will play on the Bears’ defense – more on that later.
Bush was fine last year in Jackson’s stead. If the first team All-Pro was active on Wild Card Weekend, Chicago’s season would have lasted another week but that was much more about Jackson’s absence than it was about Bush’s presence. He made few noticeable mistakes – fewer, I would argue, than his then-counterpart and new Packer Adrian Amos in that time span – and earned a chance to come back as the third safety.
Houston-Carson, a sixth rounder in 2016, has developed a niche as a fine piece of multiple special teams units. He has not played any meaningful snaps on defense thus far in his career, and I’d guess the Bears would like it to stay that way.
Key Training Camp Battle: Nothing, really
Jackson and Clinton-Dix will start. Bush will be the first man off the bench and Houston-Carson is a quality special teamer. Likely no room for Denmark, and and he’ll benefit from spending a year on the practice squad. Everyone seems fairly locked in, barring you know what.
Keys to Success
1. All the turnovers
Much like corners, and maybe even more so than them, a safety’s primary job is to get the ball. Luckily, Chicago has two who are quite skilled at doing that, so it shouldn’t be too difficult this year.
That being said, the Bears have a tough schedule, a young quarterback, and a team that hopes to contend. All those factors present, winning the turnover battle could not be more crucial to the team’s success.
2. Keep runs at the second level or below
For all of Jackson’s many, many strengths, he does not tackle well in the open field. When in man coverage, he can track his man and finish a stop for loss or short gain with a decently hard hit, but in the secondary he’s a liability when it comes to stopping yards after the catch.
Clinton-Dix’s problems in both finishing and (more drastically, from what I’ve seen) taking the correct angle are well-documented as well. The solution: don’t let anything get past the front six. This seems like an unrealistic goal, and obviously there will be runs that Jackson and/or Clinton-Dix will have to stop this year, but trusting six or seven monsters to keep runs out of the secondary outside of very rare cases isn’t too outlandish at all.
3. A new home for Ha Ha
Clinton-Dix looked lost in his final days in Green Bay, and has pretty steadily declined since the end a career year in 2016. Much of that may have to do with a secondary group around him that really only included players who were either young or bad. In other words, he was forced to carry the load on a team that didn’t have any other solid veteran presences in the defensive backfield, and was forced to assume responsibilities for which he was not fit, and his play suffered as a result.
That should not be an issue in Chicago. The Bears will likely tell him that his job is to pick off passes and let Jackson, Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and the Bears’ ferocious pass rush take care of the rest. If he’s motivated enough – and given the contract he took, he damn well should be – he could thrive with a supporting cast that is built to bring out his best football.
If not, the Bears’ defense as a whole will suffer. Amos had flaws, ball skills being the most damning, but he could be counted on to make tackles and play with physicality. Ha Ha at his worst is far worse than most of Amos’s days. Ha Ha at his best, however, could add another turnover machine to the defensive backfield and allow Chicago to terrorize opposing quarterbacks even more than it already does.
And that, my friends, is no laughing matter.