Grateful to be back on the practice field after recovering from a serious injury, Eddie Jackson intends to make the most of his seventh season with the Bears.
Jackson was leading NFC free safeties in Pro Bowl voting last November when he suffered a non-contact injury versus the Jets that sidelined him for the final five games. Having returned to practice last week, he's determined to pick up where he left off last season.
"These years, we can't waste them," Jackson said. "I've got to lead by example. I've got to go out there and play the best ball that I can and go out there and make plays … It's huge. It's Year 7 for me, so there's not more years to waste. Every year I want to come out and improve and get better and better."
Jackson revealed that he felt frustration at times while rehabbing his injury but never doubted he'd be back at full strength. He reached his goal of returning to practice by the start of the Bears' mandatory minicamp this week and is now focused on making up for lost time.
"We have a lot of new faces, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Jackson said, "so I just want to go out there and build that chemistry early."
Coach Matt Eberflus is thrilled to have Jackson back leading a young defensive backfield that includes three second-round picks from the last two drafts in cornerback Kyler Gordon (2022), safety Jaquan Brisker (2022) and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (2023).
"It's been great," Eberflus said. "[Jackson] has been a true pro. He works his tail off. He's worked his way back into position from that injury, and it wasn't easy. His love of football helped him to do it.
"It's infectious for him the way he works and the experience he brings to the table for our entire secondary because we have a pretty young secondary now. He's that one guy in there that has that experience and brings that know-how and what to do and how to do it to our room there."
Jackson praised the Bears training staff for helping him through his rehab, saying: "They did a great job, a wonderful job of just putting me in positions before testing it out, trusting it."
The former Alabama standout also credited the support he received from teammates Darnell Mooney and Jack Sanborn, both of whom were also rehabilitating season-ending injuries.
"We have all been in here grinding and sticking it out with each other," Jackson said. "It's important because we all see each other's frustration, we all see the work that it takes for us to get back that we have to put in. I feel like that just kept us going, not being there by yourself. When you're down, you have someone to pick you up, so that was huge."
After missing the final five games last year, Jackson is happy to be healthy enough to practice with his teammates.
"It makes you more grateful for football," he said. "It teaches you not to take things for granted. I've been injured before, so I know how it feels to be away from the team. But it just makes you grateful for the little things: being able to go out there and practice, being able to go out there and run and give it all you've got."
After the offseason program concludes with a third and final minicamp practice Thursday, Jackson will continue to work out daily at Halas Hall. Other than a weeklong trip back home to Florida to conduct a football camp, he'll remain in town to prepare for the start of training camp in late July.
"I came into this thing late, so [I'll have to] get my legs, my body, my lungs, just get in condition and ready to play football," Jackson said. "Everything you do, you've got to lock in. You've got to be focused. There's no time to sit here and play around or miss a day. Every day is critical."