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Tide defense helped by a healthy Jackson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Eddie Jackson would tell anyone who'd listen that he was coming back. It didn’t matter that he tore up his knee late in spring practice. It didn’t matter that the five-month, post-surgery timeline he laid out seemed wholly improbable. The lanky cornerback from South Florida was determined to get back on the field early in his sophomore season. The thought of taking a redshirt year was almost out of the question.

According to veteran safety Nick Perry, “He made it his mission to be back for the season.”

Whether anyone involved knew it or not, Alabama needed Eddie Jackson back on the football field sooner rather than later.

What we saw Week 1 against West Virginia showed us as much. The 350 yards Alabama allowed through the air in that game could have been worse if not for so many dropped passes. Bradley Sylve struggled against the Mountaineers’ taller, more physical receivers. Cyrus Jones looked a little better but wasn’t the shutdown corner the Crimson Tide needed.

Watching frustrated on the sidelines was a possible answer.

“It was really tough,” Jackson said of missing the season opener. “I wanted to be out there so bad, but there was nothing I could do except cheer my teammates on.”

Jackson felt ready to go after weeks and weeks of rehabbing twice or even three times a day. Doctors had cleared him, coach Nick Saban said, but the staff erred on the side of caution.

But when Week 2 rolled around and the secondary was reeling, the timing was right. Saban increased Jackson’s reps in practice, liked what he saw and decided to let him start in the home opener against Florida Atlantic.

Reggie Ragland, a junior linebacker, said he expected Jackson to “come out slow” in his first start back from injury. But he said Jackson “came out thudding people up.”

“He caused a fumble I recovered,” Ragland said. “Eddie looked great [Saturday].”

Said Jones: “He’s definitely one of our more physical DBs. [He] definitely doesn’t shy away from contact.”

Jackson's mobility didn’t seem the least bit limited. He racked up four tackles, including one tackle for loss. He barely missed out on an interception, too. Coaches had him on a pitch count of roughly 40 snaps, and even though the game was shortened by lightning, he came close to reaching that benchmark.

The only thing that betrayed Jackson was the ice pack wrapped around his knee after the game. Even so, he said he felt fine.

“Pretty close,” Jackson said of being 100 percent healthy. “I felt great. My knee wasn’t bothering me at all.”

Saban said he didn’t see any kind of drop off from Jackson. In fact, the technology the team employs in practice confirmed as much.

Alabama test drove the Catapult GPS system last season and agreed to use the company full time this year. The technology uses GPS, gyroscopes and magnetometers to measure an athlete’s movement and exertion during competition. Tracking Jackson’s “explosive movement,” Saban said he was able to see Jackson was ready to go.

“All those things are the same standard as before he got hurt,” Saban said.

“He made some good plays out there. I’m sure the more he plays, the better he’ll get.”

That’s good news for Alabama’s still-unproven secondary. If Jackson can become an anchor at corner, it will make fitting the rest of the pieces of the puzzle together easier, especially given safety Jarrick Williams’ injury that has him out three more weeks.

Saturday’s shutout was a move in the right direction, even if it came against Florida Atlantic, which was blown out Week 1 by a Nebraska team that barely escaped McNeese State 31-24 in Week 2.

No matter, said Alabama All-SEC safety Landon Collins. With him leading the charge in the secondary, Trey DePriest back handling the front seven at inside linebacker and Jackson’s return to the fold, Collins liked the way the entire defense came together.

“As a group, we were all focused on our keys and our concepts, and we were all one defense,” Collins said. “As a whole, we had a lot of talking going on and keeping each other on the right page, and that’s the type of defense that we want. Once we do that, we are going to make unbelievable stops.”