Eddie Jackson back for a final run with Crimson Tide

Eddie Jackson back for a final run with Crimson Tide

July 17th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Missouri wide receiver Darius White (8) is hit by Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson (4) during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Missouri wide receiver Darius White (8) is hit...

Photo by John Bazemore

ALABAMA

Last season: 14-1 (7-1 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Southern California in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. on ABC)

Fun fact: Alabama has as many national championships (five) in the past quarter century as the Big Ten (three) and Pac-12 (two) combined.

COMING MONDAY: Arkansas

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Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Spring practice wasn't always the favorite time of year for Eddie Jackson.

Alabama's senior defensive back tore an ACL in the spring of 2014, which resulted in a slower-than-desired start to his sophomore season at cornerback. After the first spring scrimmage of 2015, Jackson suddenly was moved by Crimson Tide coaches from corner to safety.

"It was really frustrating making that switch," Jackson said this past week at SEC media days. "I was basically coming in as a freshman all over again."

There are no longer hard feelings about the injury or changing positions, especially with Jackson having reached the sport's pinnacle.

Alabama halted two years of heartbreaking endings — the "Kick Six" loss at Auburn in 2013 and Ohio State's semifinal comeback in 2014 — last season by humiliating Michigan State 38-0 and then outlasting Clemson 45-40 to win its fourth national title under coach Nick Saban. Jackson had a big role in that, too, collecting 46 tackles and a team-high six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

The 6-foot, 194-pounder from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., was named a third-team All-American by The Associated Press after last season and a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation. Jackson was tabbed Friday to Walter Camp's 40-player national "watch list" regardless of position.

So adjusting to safety wasn't so bad after all.

"You definitely make more plays at safety," he said with a smile, "and you get more chances at the ball and more tackles."

Jackson set an Alabama record last year with 230 yards in interception returns, shattering the 163 that Hootie Ingram totaled for the 1952 Tide. His first touchdown came from 50 yards out during the 38-10 trampling of Georgia in Athens, and his second covered 93 yards in the 41-23 win at Texas A&M.

His final interception of the season came at the expense of Clemson's Deshaun Watson early in the second quarter of the national-title game.

Jackson was among several Crimson Tide defenders who had the opportunity to enter the NFL draft but elected to return to a unit that is coordinated no longer by Kirby Smart but by Jeremy Pruitt. Defensive end Jonathan Allen also came back, as did linebackers Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.

Alabama led the SEC defensively last year and could be dominant again with the likes of Dalvin Tomlinson, Da'Ron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand aiding Allen up front, and with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey in the secondary with Jackson.

"We lost a lot of depth on defense, which will be a good challenge for us to replace, especially up front," Saban said. "The diversity in players that we had on last year's team was almost perfect for what you need in this day and age of football with the spread and no-huddle. You need a lot of depth, and you need a lot of athletic guys that can make plays in space, and when you play some of the power teams in our conference, you need some bigger, more physical guys to stand in there.

"We kind of had all of those parts. I'm not sure we have all those parts this year, but certainly we're working to try to develop them."

The Crimson Tide will open their title defense Sept. 3 against Southern California in Arlington, Texas. Two weeks after that, they will visit Ole Miss, a team they haven't topped since 2013.

Jackson isn't sure this year's defense can match last year's accomplishments, but he's ready to find out.

"One thing I really like about this team is that everyone sees there is room for learning," Jackson said. "Nobody thinks that they know it all and have it all down. The young guys coming in are willing to learn, and for us to move on as a team we've got to bring everyone together and get that one mindset about what it takes to win.

"Coach Pruitt has been keeping it more on a simple basis for us, but it works. He's one of those coaches who is not going to kiss your butt. He's going to be on top of you, and if you mess up he's going to let you know. That's one of the things I love about him. He keeps things straightforward."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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