To say that Eddie Jackson made a nice transition from cornerback (where he had played two seasons) to safety in 2015 last year is an understatement. He was a key performer as Alabama reached the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and was selected Most Outstanding Defensive Player in that game as the Crimson Tide took the title with a win over Clemson.
His play last year earned him All-Southeastern Conference and second team All-America by the Walter Camp Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America. It was no surprise he was selected preseason All-SEC at last week’s media days event.
And the Walter Camp Foundation hasn’t forgotten Jackson. He has been named to the 2016 Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list for 2016.
He led Alabama and the SEC last season with six interceptions, and returned two of them for touchdowns. He returned those picks for 230 yards, shattering the previous Crimson Tide record of 163 yards on interceptions returns, which had been set by Hootie Ingram in 1952. He also had 46 tackles and caused and recovered a fumble.
Jackson said the transition from cornerback to safety “came over time. I made a big play in the Georgia game, an interception, that really helped.” That was one of the interceptions he returned for a touchdown, a 50-yard effort in Bama’s 38-10 win in Athens. His other TD runback was a 93-yard beauty in the Tide’s 41-23 win over Texas A&M in College Station.
Jackson, who said his biggest improvement came in being more physical as a tackler, now feels “real comfortable” at safety. He said, “At first it was real frustrating, learning the system over again at a new position; getting the play calls and not getting the play calls.”
Alabama will begin preseason practice Aug. 4. Meanwhile, Tide players have spent the summer in off-season work and working seven-on-seven drills. “We compete and play fast,” he said of the summer work. “We’ve got a play sheet, a list of plays that we have to go over. It’s very important because you can see where the young guys need to work on.” A big part of that, he said, is “We have to coach the younger guys up, keep them in line. It gets tough at times. They could lose the mental focus part of the game. We have to get them back on track with that.”
One reason he said the summer work is difficult is because the Tide has an outstanding receiving corps – Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and Robert Foster returning, and a newcomer mentioned by Jackson, Trevon Diggs.
“It’s just crazy,” Jackson said. “It’s fun. It gets tough a times. We’ve got a good secondary group, though, and we come in and compete.”
And that, he said, is what it’s like to play at Alabama. “It feels good,” he said, “but it’s tough sometimes. You lose a game and people count you out. You keep fighting. Having faith in your teammates and your teammates having faith in you is what keeps us going.”
And so does having Nick Saban as head coach, Jackson said. “We look at him as one of the great football coaches in the nation, and a great father figure, also. He helps you on and off the field – how to prepare for games and also for life situations. We’re very grateful for it. It’s a privilege to have Coach Saban, especially him in our DB meeting rooms and him correcting the mistakes we make.”
It can be intense, Jackson said, “but you get used to it. He’s doing it to help you get better.”
A year ago Saban said he wasn’t sure about team chemistry. Jackson said he thinks “We have good chemistry, but it gets better with time. Camp really brings it out in everyone – the mental toughness, the physical toughness. Hot sun and two-a-days. It really shows where you head is.
“I can say a lot of the young guys have come in with the right mindset. Everyone takes coaching and advice and criticism; don’t get the big head and don’t feel sorry for themselves.
Jackson is one of 40 Walter Camp “players to watch” from around the country named to the preseason list for an award that recognizes the top player in college football. Running back Derrick Henry became the first Alabama player to win the award when he took home the hardware in 2015.
The Walter Camp Player of the Year Award has been presented annually since 1967 by the Walter Camp Foundation to recognize the nation’s most outstanding player in college football. The award is named in honor of Walter Camp, “The Father of American Football,” who is credited with numerous innovations in the game.
The watch list will be narrowed to 10 semi-finalists in mid-November. The 2016 Walter Camp Player of the year recipient, which is voted on by the 128 NCAA Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors, will be announced live on Thursday, Dec. 8. The winner will then receive his trophy at the Foundation’s 50th annual national awards banquet on Jan. 14, 2017, at the Yale University Commons in New Haven, Conn.