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'I know I can trust him': Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Eddie Jackson are rebuilding their partnership in the Bears secondary

As Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ran in sync around the Halas Hall practice field Wednesday, it was tempting to envision a best-case scenario for the Bears’ new safety pairing.

These two Alabama-bred playmakers — reunited teammates and friends, even — might well bring the best out of each other and, in the process, help lift the defense beyond 2018’s breakthrough.

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Jackson, the ascending All-Pro in his third season, and Clinton-Dix, the veteran newcomer trying to reestablish himself in the league, have star potential together. Of that there is no question.

Potential, though, is the key word. The NFL in May is all about projection and construction, and even those elements are limited by practice restrictions. So it will be months before we can draw conclusions about how Clinton-Dix has replaced Adrian Amos.

For now, at least, as Clinton-Dix assimilates into to his third team since October, it’s clear how his and Jackson’s talent and enthusiasm form a promising foundation for a productive partnership.

“He makes my job a lot easier,” Clinton-Dix said of Jackson. “I feel free back there. I know I can trust him.”

New Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) stretches during practice Wednesday at Halas Hall.
New Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) stretches during practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Wednesday’s practice was the second of the Bears’ 10 so-called organized team activities over the next three weeks. The first OTA open to media offered a glimpse of how the defense is transitioning to new coordinator Chuck Pagano and moving on from Amos, who started 59 of 65 games over the last four seasons.

The first impression is, at best, an incomplete one. There’s no tackling or hitting. Players are prohibited from wearing pads. And the daily emphasis is on installing schemes.

Can Clinton-Dix improve his angles as a tackler? Can he play fast and be in the right place at the right time? Can he recapture the dazzling form that made him a first-round pick of the Packers in 2014 and a Pro Bowl selection in 2016? Check back in November.

At this stage, the coaching staff is learning about him as a player. Pagano believes Clinton-Dix is easily picking up the new system. He sees Clinton-Dix’s instincts, ball skills and length (32 3/8-inch arms) as tools with which he can work.

“He’s got … everything you're looking for in a safety because he can play down in the box and he can play in the deep parts of the zone,” Pagano said. “Then you can match him up and put him on backs and tight ends and things like that. He's got all the skill set necessary to do all those things.”

Jackson knows those traits from Alabama. Clinton-Dix hosted Jackson on his recruiting visit. In 2013, Clinton-Dix was a safety on the left side of the field, and Jackson was a corner on that side.

As the end of Clinton-Dix’s tenure with the Packers overlapped with the start of Jackson’s career with the Bears, they constantly saw each other on video when analyzing shared opponents, such as the Lions and Vikings.

Text messages and phone calls to check in and “chop it up,” as Clinton-Dix put it, maintained a connection that should help their reunion on the field.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson talks with reporters after practice Wednesday at Halas Hall.
Bears safety Eddie Jackson talks with reporters after practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

“I feel like it wasn’t really a switch,” Jackson said. “Amos was a great safety as well. We got along well. Ha Ha came in, and this is my boy. Just to play next to him is a blessing.”

Jackson recalled Clinton-Dix’s competitiveness at Alabama and feels it on the field again. After all, Clinton-Dix’s motivation is multilayered.

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Besides the will to win, Clinton-Dix has said the one-year, $3 million contract he signed in free agency set a stage on which to prove himself after he was traded to the Redskins for the final nine games of last season. Implied is his desire to earn the type of eight-figure contract Amos recently did with the Packers.

Harnessing that motivation will come naturally, new secondary coach Deshea Townsend said.

“He wants to be coached,” Townsend said. “He wants to be a good football player. He wants to be around good people. Now it’s just relax and play ball. All that other stuff doesn’t matter. The money will come. Play ball, have fun and let it lay where it lay.”

Townsend points to Clinton-Dix’s 14 career interceptions. And heck, Jackson already has eight in two seasons.

No wonder Clinton-Dix can see the best-case scenario for himself.

“This is something special,” he said. “I keep saying that. I can’t emphasize that enough. These guys are hungry. I was telling Eddie earlier: This is the best group of guys I’ve been around. Just the intensity, the max effort these guys give. It’s a family here. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Twitter @Rich_Campbell

 
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