Bears cover all bases with 4th round picks
The Bears used their two fourth-round draft picks Saturday to add weapons in all three phases.
They waited until the 112th overall draft pick to address deficiencies in their secondary, trading up five spots early in the round to draft Alabama's big-play free safety Eddie Jackson.
Jackson has frequently demonstrated take-it-to-the-house ability, but he's also suffered two serious injuries.
He picked off 7 passes over the previous two seasons and returned them for a total of 285 yards (40.7-yard average), including 3 touchdowns. He also provides a special-teams threat as he returned 11 punts for 252 yards (23.0-yard average), and 2 touchdowns last year before suffering a fractured left leg.
"It was frustrating," Jackson said of ending his Alabama career on the sidelines. "But I know I'm gonna be ready for training camp 100 percent, no limitations."
Bears G.M. Ryan Pace said Jackson would be limited at the rookie minicamp in two weeks but could be close to full strength by OTAs (organized team activities) ending in June.
In 2014, Jackson came back from a torn ACL in his right knee in April to start 11 games. He began his career as a cornerback and started 15 games in his first two years, including four as a freshman in 2013.
Jackson played both safety positions in his final two years at Alabama, but he is not considered a strong tackler. The 6-foot, 201-pounder does have excellent range, however, and should be a much better fit at free safety because of his ball skills.
He credited the Crimson Tide's front seven with putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and helping him to get his hands on the ball. After that, he knows how to create game-changing plays.
"When I get the ball in my hands, I feel like I turn into a receiver," he said. "I don't think about going out of bounds or going down. I think about touchdown. We think about touchdown in the secondary. We want to score."
Jackson said he had to press the Alabama coaches for a shot at returning punts, but the Bears have indicated they'll give him an opportunity right away.
"It was just the ball skills and the instincts, so we really liked him as a (free) safety," Pace said. "And then you combine that with his skills as a punt returner, and we knew we wanted to address punt returner.
"So it was like, man, we're going to kill two birds with one stone. It's always good for me when I feel the excitement of our defensive coaches and the excitement of our special teams coaches and the excitement of our head coach."
Seven spots after selecting Jackson, the Bears got a unique offensive gadget in 5-foot-6½, 179-pound running back Tarik (tuh-REEK) Cohen from North Carolina A&T, an FCS school.
Nicknamed "The Human Joystick," for his quick-cutback style, Cohen rolled up 5,619 career rushing yards, a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference record, and he averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Cohen ran a 4.41 40 at the Combine, and he possesses instant acceleration. His 1.47-second 10-yard split was the fastest of all running backs.
Cohen will be a complementary, third-down option for the Bears, who will continue to feature Jordan Howard as their No. 1 running back after his 1,313-yard rookie season in 2016.
"We call him a 'joker' back, a third-down back (and receiver) out of the backfield," Pace said. "He can separate with his routes, really a dynamic player that dominated at that level."
Cohen caught 98 passes in four years, averaging 9.6 yards per reception.
"He's one of those guys who's really fun to watch," Pace said. "You start watching one game … pretty soon you're watching his whole season because he's just a really entertaining, electric, exciting player."
While many NFL teams surely dismissed Cohen because of his lack of size and level of competition, he considers it an advantage at the next level.
"It will benefit me because the (offensive) linemen are going to be bigger," Cohen said. "So it's really going to be hard to see me behind them, and I can use that to my advantage."
Cohen says he never lamented his lack of stature but used it as motivation.
"I didn't necessarily want to be bigger," he said. "But I wanted to beat the bigger kids. I got a chip on my shoulder. When I was going against the bigger kids, I felt like I had something to prove, so I always went harder."
• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.