How Eddie Jackson Grew as Bears Leader by Sharing His Scars – NBC Chicago

Eddie Jackson’s growth as a leader of the team was possible because he learned from his’sharing scars.Original version: NBC Sports Chicago

Matt Eberflus started his job as a journalist by doing one thing: BearsHalas Hall’s head coach wanted to give everyone a clean slate. He made it clear that players wouldn’t be judged for their play on past teams, or under different regimes, good or bad. Eberflus’ staff was going to look at each player with new eyes and every player was getting a fresh start. Eddie Jackson has taken advantage of this challenge and opportunity.

After two disappointing seasons with no interceptions on the books, Jackson has made a big impact again in Eberflus’ and Alan Williams’ defense, and sits tied for third in the NFL with four picks. Many factors have played a role in his recovery this season. But, one major factor is his return back to what he loves: running in the back of his defense to make as many big plays.

Jackson, back in August, stated that the best part about the new system was being able to play. “free”Once again. He said he doesn’t mind being asked to go down into the box to help stuff the run, but that’s not what makes him go.

“I just love getting the ball, getting interceptions, scoring touchdowns,”Jackson stated.

Jackson was also one of the earlier adopters of Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. program. Over the months, other players have admitted that they were initially skeptical about the slew a acronyms and fundamentals Eberflus threw at the them, such as H.I.T.S. Or “alignment, assignment, key and technique.”Jackson understood the results and agreed to take part. Jackson was also able to see that Eberflus as well as his coaches held themselves accountable to their high standards.

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“Just letting his action match his words,”Jackson spoke at training camp. “I feel like that’s the big thing.”

Jackson himself deserves a lot of the credit for his improved play, and for seizing the opportunity of Eberflus’ fresh start. Jackson looked in the mirror at the beginning and recognized where he needed to improve his game. He approached Andre Curtis as a safeties coach to offer some suggestions. Jackson wanted to improve his tackle skills and was open to learning from coaches. Jackson leads the Bears with 77 tackles, thanks to Roquan Smith in Baltimore. He’s on pace to smash his career high of 82 tackles.

“That’s really why you coach,” Eberflus said. “That’s one of the big reasons you coach. You give men second chances, you give them clean slates, you treat guys with respect, and you challenge them to be the best they can be for our football team. And you coach them up for every rep.

“When a person buys into that, our standards the way we do things, man, that’s a pleasure to see as a coach, because he’s getting enjoyment out of it. He is in the best shape he has ever seen. He is the leader of the football team. He’s playing well.

“He’s doing everything you ask a safety to do.”

Jackson was able to get a great start on the field. But he also needed to get a new start off the field.

“I was kind of questioning God and myself.”

Alison Gore met Jackson her first day at Alabama. While she was walking around getting her bearings, Jacksonー a sophomore at the timeー stopped her and started a conversation. Jackson’s style and good manners attracted her to him and they quickly became friends. Soon, they fell in and out of love. Jackson did little things for Gore to show him that he loved him, such as taking her to lunch on campus or letting his car go to her when he was at practice. Jackson was always there to help Gore whenever she needed it.

“He just always made sure I was good.”

The most meaningful way that Jackson helped Gore was when she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that grows inside of a woman’s uterus begins growing outside the uterus. Endometriosis is a painful condition that can lead to further complications.

“It had gotten extremely bad in college,”Gore stated. “There were many days he’d have to tell (Nick) Saban he’s gotta leave practice just to get me to the hospital. It’s funny looking back because he’d rush into my apartment in full practice gear.”

Around two years ago, the couple decided to start a family, but what’s normally a cause for celebration instead began a stretch of tragic events. Gore had a miscarriage. Jackson and Gore tried again. Gore became pregnant again, but the baby died at six months. Jackson didn’t want to tell many people, but he was struggling.

“I was kind of questioning God and myself,”Jackson stated.

Jackson tried to make Gore feel happy in an effort to keep him strong. He tried to hide his full emotions from her and tried not to cry in front of her because he didn’t want his own struggles to add to her own. He understood that what he was going though must have been worse for her.

“It’s her body, it’s her physically going through that,”Jackson stated. “Even though we’re going through it both, together, it’s her physically and her body.”

Jackson was able, through Halas Hall, to put aside the traumas of his personal life and focus on other things.

“When you’re going through stuff like that, it’s like your mind is not here, so sometimes you’ve gotta swallow it,”Jackson stated. “Let me go to work, put my work face on and then let me stay focused on this. I don’t even know how to explain it. It was a tough time.”

Jackson also didn’t want his teammates feeling sorry for him, so he largely kept it to himself. He told Eberflus, Ryan Poles, safeties coach Andre Curtis and a few other guys about Gore’s failed pregnancy, but that’s it. He didn’t “want it to be a big thing.”

“It’s crazy, because I didn’t know around the time that it was happening, but I could tell he wasn’t right,”Roquan Smith. “You know, you try to keep your distance. You check in on him, but you don’t dive all the way unless someone opens up, and that’s a sensitive subject.”

Gore also noticed small changes in Jackson. She noticed him trying to improve his spirituality. He began posting scriptures every day on Instagram. Before the season started, she’d go into the living room on Sundays, and there she’d find Jackson listening to a sermon on YouTube.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a huge spiritual dude, but I am connected to God,”Jackson stated. “I’m a Christian. I kinda felt myself shying away so I had to get back in tune.”

“Going through the loss, he was more so just making sure I was OK,”Gore. “I kinda caught myself one day. We’ve been through so much I don’t think I’ve ever asked Eddie, ‘Are you OK?’ When we were burying our baby he just broke down at her memorial. Right then I was like, I’ve gotta be there for him just like he’s been there for me.”

Gore gave Jackson a book. “One-Minute Prayers For Men,”It was the perfect spiritual outlet that he needed. There are chapters for every aspect of life: self-realization and relationships and marriage, family and leadership, work, and leadership. If Jackson is facing a challenge in one of those areas, he’ll look up a passage on that topic.

“It’s stuff we go through in our lives daily, especially as athletes,”Jackson stated. “I feel like it’s really helpful to keep you grounded sometimes when you start to walk off that ledge, or you feel like you’re on the ledge. Read that book and it can kind of center you.”

Jackson now reads the entire book twice a days, every single day. Jackson begins each day with one passage and ends each night with another before he goes to bed. From Gore’s perspective, it’s helped him a lot.

“He’s more patient,”Gore stated. “He’s less stressed. Things that might have triggered him before, it’s like we’re not going to worry about it now.

“I’m proud of him.”

“Share your scars.”

Jackson saw that most of the leaders he had seen before he arrived at training camp was gone when he first arrived. There was no Akiem Hyicks to get everyone going, no Khalil Mak to guide them, and no Danny Trevathan who could bring everyone together. Jackson recognized that he had to be more vocal in the locker room even before the Bears sent Smith and Robert Quinn to Philadelphia.

It’s one thing to talk about taking on a bigger leadership role, and it’s another thing to convince others to follow, but Jackson succeeded in the latter right away. Jackson was able to back up his words with actions. Players notice when a guy tries to be a vocal leader, but doesn’t lead by example at practice, in games, or in meetings. Jackson was helping bring players around to Eberflus’ new program and following the principles himself. This gave Jackson credibility in the locker-room.

“When he talks, everybody listens,”Jaquan Brisker spoke.

“When your top dogs buy in, then everyone else is going to look around and say, ‘I have to,’” said DeAndre Houston-Carson.

Jackson took Brisker (and other young DBs) under his wing in the early part of this summer to help them adjust to the NFL level as quickly possible. Curtis, the safeties coach, tells his veterans players to “share their scars,” meaning he wants the older guys to be frank about mistakes they made when they were younger players, so that the next generation of Bears don’t make the same mistakes. This has two effects. The first is that younger men can play better and faster. Second, players build a sense community in their locker rooms.

“All of them have been rookies before,” Curtis said. “All of them have been through things before, injuries, so it’s good to share those types of experiences.”

Jackson has taken that to heart, and it’s helped the younger players. He’s spent a lot of time with Brisker to go over film, explaining what he would’ve done in various scenarios and giving Brisker pointers. Brisker has already grown from this mentorship.

“Like shooting the gap,”Brisker said. “Eddie used to tell me, ‘When you see it, just shoot it.’It was something I did in college, but it was more difficult in the NFL. Once I see the gaps open, I shoot it. I just anticipate it, and then make plays.

“During OTAs when he would talk to me and say what he was seeing and things like that, it helped me a lot on the field just because I would know where he was going to be on the field in this call or that call. Also, the stuff he said before would trigger in my mind, ‘Oh, I’m seeing what he’s seeing,’ when I’m back on the field, so it’s all coming back together.”

Seventh-round rookie Elijah Hicks hasn’t seen the field on defense yet, but he’s made several splash plays on special teams. Hicks said he’s learned a lot from veterans “sharing their scars”Curtis praised Hicks, saying that he absorbs the information like a sponge when veterans speak.

“Even though we play the same position and competing, at the end of the day we’re brothers trying to help each other get better,”Hicks.

Sharing your scars isn’t just about football though. Curtis encouraged the players to share their lives outside of Halas Hall in order to strengthen their bonds. Jackson saw this as an opportunity and embraced it once again. The “One-Minute Prayers for Men”Jackson was so grateful for the book’s help, he wanted to share it his entire secondary school. Jackson made sure Curtis also had a copy.

“Eddie came home one day and he was like, ‘Hey, where’d you get these books?… Could you get like 30 more?’”Gore. “When he took them to work I’m like, OK, it was shocking, but it was cool.”

Most of the secondary has taken the time to read some of the passages, and those who did have come away with at least a few nuggets to help them in some aspect of their life, whether it’s adjusting to the NFL or being a better romantic partner. It’s taught some to remain humble or grateful. Life can change quickly in the NFL. Players who take a step back to see the big picture and gain a better understanding of their season or their career can be very helpful.

“When we got it, I started reading it right then and there,”Hicks. “I do appreciate that a lot. It tells you a lot about the culture and the type of guys that we have, trying to be selfless. It’s something I can appreciate being a younger guy and seeing the older guys trying to help us be better people on and off the field. It’s very important.”

“It shows that he actually cares about the guys and wants what’s best for them,”Houston-Carson. “You see how excited he is to talk about it and how much it means to him that it makes you want to pick it up and see what it’s all about.”

“It’s just a good balance in life,”Brisker. “Just helping you stay straightforward, continuing on the right path if you’re falling down the wrong path.”

Kyler Gordon keeps the book in a backpack and loves how the small sections allow him to dig in quickly.

“I went over ‘Success’ and ‘Learning to Be,’”Gordon said. “I feel like that’s where I’m at in my rookie stage… To me they intertwined a little bit, ‘Learning to Be’ and the success, they both don’t come right away. It’s a process. So when you’re going about your thing you’ve really got to hone in and know that.

“I feel like I actually got something out of it, so big thank you to him.”

“Just a small message determines your whole day,”Gore. “You can go to work and have a good day. You go home and you’re in good spirits. So I’m glad they’re all getting a better outlook from just a small word. I’m glad they appreciate it. I am.”

“He has that swag back.”

Jackson’s leadership style isn’t all serious. He’s a fun-loving guy and wants to help foster friendships among players in the clubhouse. To do that, Jackson has opened up his house as a hangout, and it’s become a popular spot. Jackson will hire a barber to give players a haircut or invite guys over for dinner. The meals Jackson’s chef whips up have earned rave reviews around the locker room. A favorite is shrimp scampi, as well as classics like wings and mac and mashed potato.

The Jackson household hosts weekly Thursday Night Football Watch Parties. Lots of guys come through each week to kick back, enjoy each other’s company and watch football. Of course, there’s the added benefit of getting a look at future opponents, too.

“It’s different being able to hang with each other outside the facility, because at work it’s a different type of hang,”Smith. “At home you can just kick back and just be yourself completely and not have to worry about other things. I think that’s critical.”

These types of interactions have made an impact on the Bears secondary. Players use the word “brotherhood” a lot to describe the bonds that they’ve built in just a few months.

“He took care of me,”Hicks. “Little stuff like that, it makes you feel like, dang, it’s welcoming. You appreciate it.”

It’s made an impact on Jackson, too. He’s clearly honored to have been named a permanent captain on the team, and enjoys mentoring the other players.

“He has that swag back,” said Jaylon Johnson. “He has that ‘it’ factor back that he didn’t have those last few years, with him getting his plays called back and seeing his head go down.”

“I feel like he’s trusting himself,”Kindle Vildor. “He’s comfortable. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that people don’t know about going on outside of football that can play a part in how we play and we perform, because we’re all humans at the end of the day. I know he’s free and feeling good and he’s looking awesome.”

Jackson is at the top his game on the field. Off the field, he’s getting better, too. Both he, Gore, and he are both optimistic about the future and believe their best days ahead.

“I think everyone may need a humbling experience, and it just takes that to point us in the right direction,”Gore stated. “I just think that’s what happened to us. Being that he’s put himself in God’s hands and is honoring Him with all his work and all his accomplishments, you can’t lose.”

“One day it’s going to work out for us,”Jackson. “We’re in a great space right now. We’re going to see what the future holds for us. God’s going to bless us, so it’s one day at a time.”

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