TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They heard the news the instant you did.
Standing in the hallway, inside the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night, a handful of Alabama players waited as coach Nick Saban addressed the media.
In Saban’s opening statement after what should have been a thrilling 33-14 win over No. 6 Texas A&M, he delivered the somber news: safety Eddie Jackson would miss the rest of the season with a fractured leg.
“I’m just sick for him and his family,” Saban said.
Neither defensive end Jonathan Allen nor cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick had time to process the fact that they’d be without one of their most vocal leaders. But there they were, suddenly standing in front of a horde of reporters, reacting in real time.
“I thought he just hurt his shin again,” Fitzpatrick said. “I didn’t know he’d be out for the season.”
Allen added: “It’s sad, man. He’s like a brother.”
There’s hope for Jackson, of course. The good news is there was no word of ligament damage. Allen called him a “soldier.” With the proper rehab, perhaps Jackson will get healthy in time for NFL draft preparation.
But for now, the top-ranked Crimson Tide must make do without the quarterback of the secondary, the veteran safety with 24 tackles, an interception and a pair of pass breakups. They have to replace his production in the punt return game as well.
Much has been made of Alabama's FBS-best 12 non-offensive touchdowns this season, and Jackson had three of those.
“You can’t replace him,” Allen said.
But in the next breath, the senior from Virginia stated the obvious: “It’s next man up.”
“All we can do is move forward,” Fitzpatrick said.
Whatever the case, Alabama can’t afford a significant drop-off now that Jackson is out of the picture. The Tide’s playoff hopes depend on it.
While no one is prepared to make the argument that they’re doomed, there is cause for concern. Going from start to finish as the No. 1-ranked team in the country is a high-wire act, and Jackson’s departure was the kind of strong gust of wind that can cause shaky footing.
Maybe if Maurice Smith were still around it would be different. The same could be said of Kendall Sheffield. But they’re long gone and an already thin secondary just got stretched thinner.
The good news is that there’s time to regroup. With a week off before their trip to LSU, the Tide can process Jackson’s departure and begin figuring out what comes next.
“We can’t linger on the fact that he’s not going to be with us anymore,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re going to have to have people step up. Myself, I’m going to have to step up. Ronnie [Harrison] is going to have to step up. And we’re going to have some younger guys learn the playbook and put some responsibility on themselves.”