Chuck Pagano had Eddie Jackson at Ed Reed.
When the Bears’ new defensive coordinator Pagano was hired in January, Chicago’s All Pro ball hawk Jackson said he simply knew his new boss had worked with some great Ravens defenses. That, of course, meant working with Reed, the first-ballot Hall of Fame safety who played under Pagano first at the University of Miami and then in Baltimore.
Pagano, a former college safety who cut his NFL coaching teeth working with defensive backs, has been referred to by Reed as a father figure and was instrumental in Reed becoming one of the great playmaking defensive backs in NFL history.
“Ed Reed, that’s my favorite safety,” Jackson said Wednesday following the Bears second of 10 OTAs. “So when I heard that, that’s all I needed to here.”
Jackson has a long ways to go before his overall career should ever should realistically be compared to Reed’s. But in Jackson, whose five defensive touchdowns in two seasons are the most by any NFL defender since 2015 — when he was just making his transition at Alabama from corner to safety — Pagano certainly sees similarities between their games.
“From a talent standpoint, very, very similar,” Pagano said. “Great instincts. Great range. Great ball skills. He’s only three years into it. Ed has a lot more time on task, obviously. He’s got a lot of the same traits. He loves football. He’s a football junkie.”
Pagano said he sees “a ton” of parallels between the Ravens defenses he coached for four years (2008-10 as secondary coach, 2011 as coordinator) that ranked third in the NFL and reached the playoffs each season and the Bears unit he inherited that led the NFL in that category and in a spate of other key departments in 2018.
Not that that was necessary to rekindle Pagano's football fire after his six-year stint as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts ended with his firing in 2017 followed by a year away from the game.
"When what you love, it’s been taken away from you and know you have an opportunity to be back doing what you love, that’s coaching and being around great coaches and great players and guys that love ball — it’s real easy," he said. "The culture around here — you’ve got to have energy and you’ve got to have juice. And if you don’t have energy and you don’t have juice and you don’t have passion, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb and probably not going to be around long."
Pagano and Bears head coach Matt Nagy cautioned that it’s a process getting the defense to play as fast and fearsome under a new coordinator as it did last season, Vic Fangio's fourth with the club, prior to taking the Denver Broncos top position. But they were thrilled with the near-perfect attendance at OTAs and the progress on defense thus far—sentiments Jackson shares.
“When you got guys like that, you just know what your future holds,” Jackson said of the team’s collective buy-in with Pagano. “OTAs, everybody is back. You look around the league, some teams say 70 percent of the guys are back. Just to see everybody back here and everybody grinding and working hard and having that same chip on their shoulder from the Eagles game, it’s going to be a fun one.”
Nagy said his new coordinator’s coaching strength is relating to his players, and after the second round of the new defensive installation, Pagano sounded please with the way they’re retaining information and avoiding many mental mistakes.
He wouldn’t say to what extent he’ll put his own stamp on the Bears ‘D’ — “time will tell” — but reminded everyone of the “common threads” between his and the scheme of Fangio, his former Ravens colleague.
As for the common threads between the leader of Pagano’s old Ravens defensive backfields and his new one? Reed intercepted 64 passes—including seven pick-sixes—over 11 seasons en route to Canton and his place near the top of all-time Ravens legends.
Yet after only two seasons, Jackson was ranked in the Bears centennial scrapbook as the 96th best player in the history of one of the NFL’s charter franchises. Jackson called it a “shocker” and a “blessing.”
“The sky’s the limit for a guy like that,” Pagano said. “When you know the defense and you know what you’re doing and then you can spend all your time figuring out the offense and being one step ahead, that’s where he’s got an edge on everybody. He’s very similar to Reed.”