BOURBONNAIS -- The Bears have gotten a lot more aggravation than production from their safety positions in recent seasons, but this year they may have the ideal mix of old and new.
The old is 10th-year veteran Quintin Demps who, at 32, is the oldest defensive player on the roster. The new is rookie Eddie Jackson, the fourth-round draft pick out of Alabama.
The depth chart before Thursday night's preseason opener listed Jackson as fourth-string, but at Saturday's practice he shared first-team reps with incumbent Adrian Amos. Demps has one safety spot locked down, while the competition for his running mate will continue to play out.
"It's pretty cool," Jackson said after practice. "It's helpful just being out there with the older guys, the vets, and seeing how things work and also being out there next to Quintin Demps. Getting a feel for things and being in with those guys felt good."
The Bears are the fifth team for the well-traveled Demps, who was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round (117th overall) in 2008. After two years in Philadelphia, Demps spent three years with the Houston Texans and a year each with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants before another two-year hitch with the Texans.
The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Demps has been a Bear for just five months, but he's been considered a leader almost from Day One.
Coach John Fox says the free-agent addition of Demps, along with veteran cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, provides experienced role models for the entire defensive backs room.
"(They're) guys that have played in the league and understand the game," Fox said. "They've already got a good grasp of our defense, and they help with the young guys. You need leadership in those rooms, and I feel better about where we are right now."
Demps didn't campaign for the leadership role but he accepts it and wears it comfortably.
"I just be myself, man, and that's who coaches have labeled me as -- a leader," he said. "Guys kind of gravitated toward me in Houston. It's about putting your head down and coming out and trying to be consistent each and every day."
It took a while for Demps to gain a foothold in the NFL, but now, at a time when most players have retired or are on a downward arc, he's playing as well as ever.
"I'm just blooming late," he said. "I have to credit my coaches that I've had in the past and the coaches here. I just look forward to proving everybody wrong (about age misconceptions) and playing with a chip on my shoulder and get some (more) respect around the league."
Demps did not start a single game in his first five years in the league, when he had a total of 3 interceptions. But he's started 41 times in the past four years and picked off 15 passes, including 6 last season -- more than any safety in the NFL.
The Bears believe Jackson has that type of potential. At an even 6 feet and (maybe after a big meal) 194 pounds, Jackson's body type is more geared to play a traditional free safety, where the emphasis is on coverage.
Demps' bulk is helpful for a typical strong safety, who plays closer to the line of scrimmage. The Bears prefer the safeties to be interchangeable, and Demps has played both in the past. The Bears want Jackson to get bigger, stronger and more physical, which should come with maturity.
As a junior at Alabama, Jackson had 6 interceptions but just 1 last year when a fractured leg shortened his senior season to eight games. He averaged 40.7 return yards on his last 7 picks, and is also a dangerous punt returner.
After a slow start in the off-season, he's making up for lost time.
"He missed a lot of the off-season (rehabbing the leg), but he's got a really good football IQ," Fox said. "All in all, I think he's just going to continue to improve."
Jackson was asked if he considered getting practice reps with the starters as a sign that he was improving, but he didn't want to assume anything.
"I don't look at it that way," he said. "I just go out there and do my job and, as a rookie, I've got to keep getting better."
• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.