Looks like Eddie Jackson is warming up to his new home for the Alabama Crimson Tide defense. Just in time, too.
The 6-foot, 194-pound junior made the switch to safety this season after spending his first two seasons playing cornerback. There were questions about how he would fare back there. He's a little light and maybe not quite as physical as the prototypical safety, and he wasn't exactly a ball hawk at corner the past two seasons, totaling one interception as a freshman in 2013 and one as a sophomore last season.
In the last couple of weeks, however, Jackson has been coming on strong. And erasing all doubt. In fact, the Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., product is starting to show signs of not just being a serviceable safety but a bona fide standout at safety.
Against Georgia two weeks ago, Jackson picked off a Brice Ramsey pass and then showed off his athleticism by weaving through several would-be Georgia tacklers, following his blocks and finishing with a highlight-reel 50-yard return for a score.
He made it two games in a row with a pick last Saturday against Arkansas when he stepped in front of a Brandon Allen pass and again tacked on a nice return. This time, though, he didn't quite reach the end zone, but he did bring it back 20 yards to the Arkansas 13 to set up Alabama points — an Adam Griffith field goal that made it 20-7.
Jackson's first pick on the season came against Wisconsin in the opener, and, like his other two picks, he added a nice return (41 yards) after making the interception.
Through six games now, Jackson's three interceptions is tops on the team. Not bad for a safety. And especially not bad for a first-year safety who spent the past two seasons at corner. And not bad considering Jackson isn't that far removed from having suffered a torn ACL, which occurred during spring drills 18 months ago.
Only five other safeties at Alabama over the last seven years have recorded more interceptions in one season, and none since 2012. Robert Lester actually did it twice. He and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix each had four picks in 2012. Lester had eight in 2010. Mark Barron had seven in 2009. And Rashad Johnson and Justin Woodall had five and four, respectively, in 2008. Oh, and Jackson still has at least six more games to play this season.
Most Interceptions by Alabama Safety Over Last Eight Seasons
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
*Through six games
"Eddie's done a really good job for us," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "I think he was a little apprehensive at first to move only because it was out of his comfort zone, and he hadn't (played safety) in a long time and there was a lot of new things he was gonna have to learn.
"But he's been very dedicated in his approach to trying to learn the position and do the things at the position you need to do to play winning football. He's always been a very instinctive, sort of playmaker kind of guy even when he played corner. That's carried over into safety. He has done a really good job for us."
While he's becoming increasingly good at it, picking off passes isn't all Jackson is about when it comes to helping anchor the back end of this stingy Alabama defense, which ranks sixth nationally in yards allowed per game. Jackson is currently tied for fifth on the team with 22 total tackles. He's also defended three passes, recorded a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
It's likely Alabama is going to need another big-time performance out of No. 4 this Saturday when it plays at undefeated and No. 9-ranked Texas A&M. The Aggies, who employ an up-tempo, spread offense, love to throw, and, as their record indicates, they're quite good at it.
Quarterback Kyle Allen ranks 15th nationally and second in the SEC (behind only Ole Miss' Chad Kelly) in TD passes with 13. He's also thrown only two picks all season. Allen's favorite target is freshman sensation Christian Kirk who ranks 13th nationally and is tops in the SEC with his 103.8 receiving yards per game.
Suffice it to say, a quickly heating up Jackson is pretty much exactly what this Alabama defense needs at this juncture in the season.
"We're not as big as we've been at safety, but the guys that we have playing safety now are athletic and have a little more range and speed," Saban said, referring to both Jackson and Geno Matias-Smith. "I think that has helped us against some of the teams we have to play that are more spread out."
This Saturday, of course, will likely be the ultimate test to Saban's theory on more athletic safeties versus spread out offenses. And the ultimate test for a once average cornerback who isn't looking so average anymore playing safety.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.