Bears safety Eddie Jackson has set two goals for the 2022 season: Be better than he was last year and be a better leader. Personal goals regarding statistics or accolades are off the table for the sixth-year veteran. Jackson knows those will take care of themselves if the main objective –winning– is achieved.
Following the departures of longtime Bears Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, Jackson realized he was one of the last veteran players standing. That's when he knew it was his turn to be the guy all the young players look at and follow.
"I really eliminated the personal goals this year, it was just more overall helping the team, come in and be a better version of myself," Jackson said. "I know I'm a vet now, one of the oldest guys in the room, so a lot of the young guys look up to me. I have to lead from the front. That's how I prepare, how I work, how I'm in meetings, how I walk around the building, how I attack the weight room, all of that type of stuff. I feel like everything else will fall in line."
The leap in leadership has already resonated with rookie safety Jaquan Brisker. When the two met, Jackson told the second-round pick to holler if he ever needed anything. Hours later, Brisker asked if he could go over to Jackson's house and watch film with him.
Jackson and Brisker have had multiple film sessions, and the newcomer has already impressed the veteran with his questions and ability to apply the answers on the field.
"I just try to give him tips like 'how to play this, how to play this, I was too high,' hearing him coach himself up and the little things," Jackson said. "It just shows you that he's going to have a lot of success in his career because he pays attention to the little things that most guys don't pay attention to."
Cornerback Kyler Gordon, the Bears' other second-round draft pick, is another player Jackson is taking under his wing. Jackson said Gordon talks less than Brisker, but listens and soaks everything in. Between OTAs and the start of camp, Jackson has seen how Gordon's natural instincts allow him to make plays on the ball.
As Jackson is learning how to assume a larger role in the locker room, he's looked at the new leadership Eberflus brought to the team. On Tuesday, cornerback Jaylon Johnson discussed how the new staff has emphasized being in shape, holding each other accountable and playing hard-nosed football.
Jackson agreed that there's been an increase in conditioning and accountability. His trust with the coaches is already at 100 percent and he feels every player has already bought in to the new culture.
"It starts with 'Flus.' Coach, he's never late to a meeting, he's probably 5-10 minutes early waiting on us to get in there, sitting in the back of the room," Jackson said. "Just that accountability part and holding everyone accountable, everyone equally accountable. No matter if you're Year 10, Year 2, Year 1. And just the conditioning part. You see us out there. We fly around for however long practice is. From start to finish, we always preach that we want the first period to look like the last period, and he holds us up to that standard. Like today, we had guys not finishing through the line on one of the drills. He sent us back three times. That right there shows it's the little things."
Thursday marked 2022's first public workout at Halas Hall as the Bears took the fields in front of an enthusiastic crowd for another Enjoy Illinois Training Camp practice.
While Jackson is eager to help the rookies learn, he's also focused on holding himself accountable. After an impressive rookie season in 2017, Jackson earned back-to-back Pro Bowl selections. In 2018, he ranked fourth in the NFL with six interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. The following year he picked off two passes, both serving as game-sealing interceptions. But, in his last two seasons, he hasn't recorded a pick.
In Thursday's practice, Jackson felt like he got back on track after intercepting a deflected pass intended for receiver N'Keal Harry. The veteran safety said it felt good to break that cycle.
Jackson is hungry for more success, and he knows his play last year wasn't up to his standards. But he already feels the confidence coming from his coaches and the young players who are listening to him. He's made the necessary adjustments from last year and is ready take a fresh mindset into the new season.
"I just feel like I could have got complacent sometimes (last year);" Jackson said, "trying to do too much instead of just being me." This year, he plans on "not listening to the outside noise and just coming in here and working, laying this foundation brick by brick."
"I'm the oldest guy in the room right now," Jackson said, "so it's a lot of guys that are looking at me how I work, how I watch film, how I am in the meeting rooms, if I'm slouching or if I'm straight up. How do I take the coaching? So, I'm just making sure I lead from the front and lead the right way."