TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson went down with a knee injury during spring practice, it looked like disaster for the Alabama secondary.
Jackson had been Alabama’s best option opposite the departed Deion Belue in 2013 and entered the spring as its No. 1 guy.
Jackson promptly had knee surgery and the only timeline Saban gave for his return was “this fall” in a university release.
On Friday, as reporters spilled onto the practice field for a short viewing period at the start of fall camp, there was Jackson running through drills.
It’s still unclear when exactly he’ll be 100 percent ready, but Jackson’s early return would solidify the one place on the defense where there is uncertainty this year and make Alabama an elite unit on that side of the ball.
Saban cautioned reporters following that Friday practice. He said Jackson was back practicing, but that doesn’t mean that he’s at all ready to go.
“We're going to kind of keep him on a pitch count that will gradually increase and see when he gets back to 100 percent,” he said. “Eddie took all the tests and passed them, so straight-line running is not the issue. It's cutting, changing direction, doing those kinds of things and seeing what issues those things create.”
His teammates weren’t surprised to see Jackson rehab so quickly.
“Eddie's a tough competitor, a hard worker,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “He's just got a great spirit out there when he's out there. He loves helping the younger guys out and just helping out the team anyway he can. It felt good to see Eddie out there getting into some work and doing some drills. I'm happy for him.”
Jackson’s return would be just what the defense needs.
Last season, cornerback was a major weakness. While Alabama finished second in the SEC in passing yards against per game, it was lit up to the tune of 464 yards against Texas A&M, 241 against LSU and 348 against Oklahoma. Cornerback play was a big reason for that.
Belue was the No. 1 guy, but there was never a solid No. 2 next to him all season. Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve got their turns but could never lock down a starting role.
As a freshman, Jackson showed flashes of brilliance, including a play against Ole Miss where he stayed with his man on a wide receiver pass and ended up with an interception.
During the spring, Saban said Jackson was “probably our best corner, most consistent” before his injury. All signs pointed to Jackson being the No. 1 guy.
Elsewhere, the defense is loaded.
Alabama has two experienced guys at safety in Landon Collins and Jarrick Williams. The defensive line could be one of the best position groups in the country, though it may be without two of its top options to start the season.
There’s also depth at linebacker, with talented guys like Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee who have been in the system and are ready to have their shot.
At corner, Alabama brought in two 5-stars in Tony Brown, who enrolled in the spring, and Marlon Humphrey. The pair could eventually develop into stars, but it’s probably not wise to throw both straight into the mix right away with championship aspirations.
That’s why Jackson’s return is key.
“Eddie's kind of doing what he can do right now,” Saban said on Tuesday. “I'm pleased with the progress that he's made and where he is. We just want him to continue to work, and it may take awhile for him to get back to where he needs to be. But I think he's doing the things that he needs to do.
Maybe he's not doing it 100 percent, but for him to be able to do it 100 percent, I think he needs to continue to do the things he's doing right now and get confidence and as his leg gets stronger, he'll be able to do it more and more effectively.”
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