TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s defense took a major hit during its 33-14 win against Texas A&M on Saturday.
Safety Eddie Jackson’s Alabama career is over after he fractured his leg eight games into his senior season.
“Eddie was a fantastic player for us, a great leader and I think an All-American player at safety, at least in my book,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We’re certainly going to miss him. What a great player, what a great competitor and what a great guy to have in this program for the time he’s been here.
“He’s done a fantastic job for us. I’m just sick for him and his family.”
Jackson’s importance to Alabama’s defense can’t be overstated. He was loved and respected by all of his teammates.
“As a team, him and Reuben (Foster) are like the generals of the whole defense,” Alabama junior cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “When we had that players-only meeting, Eddie was the one that called it up. When we’re playing bad, we go to Eddie. When we’re playing good, we go to Eddie.
“Without him, it’s going to be very different.”
Added Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, “Sad, man. I’m going to pray for him. It’s sad. He’s like a brother. Seeing your brother go down, that’s sad. It really is. But he’s a solider, so he’s going to fight through it. It’s next man up, but you can’t replace that.”
Losing Jackson means Alabama must search for answers on special teams and in the secondary.
Jackson was an electric punt returner, returning 2 for touchdowns this season.
Defensively, Jackson led Alabama’s secondary and helped put the other players in position. He also made big plays. Jackson intercepted one pass this season and returned it for a touchdown.
Others must step up from a leadership standpoint. Jackson still will be able to lead from the sidelines, but Alabama needs someone in its secondary to become even more vocal going forward.
Humphrey and sophomores Ronnie Harrison and Minkah Fitzpatrick should see expanded leadership roles.
“We all kind of took leadership roles in the secondary, but Eddie was the one who took over,” Fitzpatrick said. “Now it’s our turn to step up and show him how we can do.”
On the field, Alabama has a few options. Junior Laurence “Hootie” Jones has been Alabama’s third safety this season. Jones plays safety when Alabama lines up in its dime package and seemingly would make an easy transition into the starting safety role.
Then there’s Tony Brown, who has worked with the cornerbacks and safeties throughout his time at Alabama. Brown’s versatility would allow Alabama to use him at safety or at money (sixth defensive back) when the Crimson Tide move to their dime package.
A dime lineup with Brown at money and Harrison and Jones at the safety spots makes the most sense on paper.
As for the safety spot in the base and nickel packages, Alabama might have Brown and Jones compete for the more prominent role as the team enters its bye week.
“He’s the heart and soul of our defense, so losing him is a big negative,” Allen said of Jackson. “But at ‘Bama, we always preach next man up. So next man’s going to have to step up and we’re going to hold him to the same standards that Eddie played with.”