LAKE FOREST – When Eddie Jackson first came to Chicago as a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, then-defensive quality control coach Sean Desai was the one who taught Jackson the defense.
Vic Fangio was the defensive coordinator at the time, but Desai was the one working hands-on with the rookie safety. Desai’s experience working with many of the Bears defenders, particularly in the secondary, is part of the reason why the Bears felt so comfortable giving the 38-year-old the defensive coordinator position in January.
“He’s been a guy behind the scenes for a very long time, even before I got here,” Jackson said.
The Bears are hoping that relationship will help Jackson return to his Pro Bowl form in 2021. Jackson was a first-team All-Pro performer in 2018 and a Pro Bowler in both 2018 and 2019. He signed a $58.4 million contract extension with the Bears in January 2020, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL at the time.
But Jackson wasn’t the same ball-hawking safety in 2020. He didn’t have any interceptions last season after totaling 10 in his first three NFL seasons. He did force three fumbles and totaled 82 tackles in the regular season, along with five passes defended.
The Bears are hoping a familiarity with Desai, and Desai’s knowledge of Fangio’s defense, can help Jackson return to that elite form. It might also help that Jackson will be working alongside a familiar face.
For the first time in three years, Jackson will be playing beside the same starting safety for back-to-back years. With veteran Tashaun Gipson back in orange and blue, the Bears bring back both starting safeties for the first time since Jackson teamed up with Adrian Amos in 2017 and 2018.
“When Gip and BoJack are back there and they’re communicating and handling all of the coverage assignments, that helps because now they know how each other plays,” Desai said. “They know what each other’s preferences are and how to take care of different issues on the back end.”
Jackson played beside Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for one season in 2019 before Gipson arrived last year. The 30-year-old Gipson, who begins his 10th NFL season this fall, fit in nicely beside Jackson and played his best ball in the Bears’ playoff game against New Orleans.
In his first season with the Bears last year, Gipson totaled two interceptions, seven passes defended, one fumble recovery and 66 total tackles. The Bears brought Gipson back on a one-year deal for 2021.
“I’m in his head, he’s in my head,” Jackson said. “The type of athlete that Gip is, he brings a lot of stuff that we can use.”
Gipson said last week during veteran minicamp that Desai is doing a good job of putting players in position to make plays. Much of the Bears starting defense skipped organized team activities, but the defense was ready to roll for minicamp.
It showed during practice. The secondary – where there are a number of players fighting for playing time – was impressive, with guys like Kindle Vildor and Jaylon Johnson stepping up.
“So many guys [have] been doing their own thing, and for us to be back ... for us to be out there performing the way we is, man, it’s just scary,” Gipson said. “Once we get to training camp and we get that camaraderie and we gel and everyone’s on the same page, I think that will be a scary thing to see, man.”
The Bears now are off until training camp begins in late July.