TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While watching an Alabama game from last season over the summer, Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard noticed a potential weapon for the Tide’s special teams unit.
Howard was watching the Texas A&M game when safety Eddie Jackson returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown. According to Jackson, Howard went to the coaching staff and lobbied to get the safety back deep on punt returns.
Jackson and top-ranked Alabama host No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
“I like punt return. That’s been a thing of mine,” Jackson said. “I was just waiting for my opportunity and I got a shot. I really had to thank O.J., because he was the one who really pushed (special teams/running backs) Coach (Burton) Burns this offseason and told him to put me back there and give me a chance. So, thanks to O.J. for that.”
Howard stayed on Burns over the summer about making the change, according to Jackson.
Burns was open to the suggestion and told Jackson not to let Howard down.
“He put me back there and I was like the third-string punt returner behind Calvin and Trevon,” Jackson said. “Then when I got the shot (against Ole Miss), he was like, ‘Come on now Eddie, your boy’s been calling me all summer.’ It was kind of cool.”
Howard’s response when Jackson scored on an 85-yard punt return vs. Ole Miss?
“He was like, ‘I told you. I told ‘em, I told ‘em.’ It was funny,” Jackson said.
Wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Trevon Diggs opened the season as the No. 1 and No. 2 punt returners on the depth chart, respectively.
By the time the Ole Miss game rolled around, Jackson jumped from third string to No. 1 on the depth chart.
“They made some mistakes and I don’t think they were as comfortable at punt returner, so they just put me back there,” Jackson said.
Jackson leads the nation in punt return touchdowns (2) and yards per punt return (25.78).
While Jackson has excelled in his new role, there have been a few teaching moments. Against Tennessee, Alabama attempted to block a punt which forced the Volunteers into a line drive punt.
Jackson decided to fair catch the ball instead of returning it.
“I had a very casual conversation with him,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He agreed that he didn’t need to fair catch it because we were going after the kick. Sometimes, we get big returns off blocks because it distorts the coverage as the guys try to block. It was a teaching moment.”
On Jackson’s next return, he scored from 79 yards out. Lesson learned.