Great ability! Great theatre! What can't DeSean Jackson do?!?!
The question really is: How much do the Eagles want him to do? How much and how effectively the Eagles implement Jackson into the 2012 offense could go a long way toward determining this team's success.
What's the best way to use Jackson? We all appreciate the importance of his stretch-the-defense speed as the Eagles try to get vertical in their passing game. Jackson averages 18 yards per reception in his career. He is breathtaking to watch in the open field and, most important, Jackson forces defenses to account for his speed and his game-breaking skills.
It is a priority for defenses to limit Jackson. That's why the Eagles see so many soft coverages designed to take away the deep throw. The theory seems to be that if you can make the Eagles dink and dunk to reach the red zone, you have a better chance to take Michael Vick and Co. off the field. All of those red-zone turnovers and mistakes by this offense in 2011 nailed that point home.
So what about Jackson? How much can the Eagles get him the football? He's primarily an outside threat, the vertical receiver, but he is able to give the offense much more. You could see Jackson moving around the formation just a bit more this year to maximize his touches. Jackson is never going to catch nine or 10 passes a game, like Terrell Owens did in that memorable 2004 season. The offense is structured to spread the football around and share the wealth. And, certainly, Jeremy Maclin -- who looked great in the spring -- Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy need their touches to make the offense go.
Could the Eagles, though, force defenses to react by moving Jackson, say, into the slot? He could run some underneath routes there as the other receivers clear out the area, and use his speed and quickness to create separation and make some plays that way. What if the Eagles put Jackson in motion more to cause some defensive movement in the pre-snap part of the play, perhaps causing a bit of confusion?
What is the perfect number of touches for Jackson, who is likely to also get his hands on the ball in the punt-return game, something at which he needs to much improved over last season?
In the final four wins of 2011, Jackson caught 13 passes for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Only in the win over the Jets, when New York's defense concentrated on Jackson with Darrelle Revis, the outstanding All-Pro cornerback, and left gaping holes elsewhere, was Jackson neutralized.
Otherwise, he ran deep routes, made big plays and caused havoc for the defense.
It is a blueprint the Eagles have to follow starting on September 9 in Cleveland. Jackson doesn't have to be the featured receiver. The Eagles don't need to force-feed him the ball, and Michael Vick needn't throw into coverage to make sure Jackson gets his touches.
But the Eagles need Jackson to get his hands on the football. They need him to send a shock into the core of the defensive game plan and allow the Eagles to attack on their terms. They need to be inventive -- and Marty Mornhinweg is among the most creative offensive minds in the game -- to make sure Jackson gets his.
In the spring practices, Vick and Jackson continued their great chemistry. They were on the same page. Vick threw to spots and Jackson caught the ball in stride. It was a beautiful sight to see.
And it is one that we must see every week for the Eagles offense to operate with maximum efficiency.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- I find it interesting that the NFL is going to sell coaches' tape to the general public this year. First of all, I think it's great for those fans to want to better understand what happened on the field rather than rely simply on the television broadcast. But I can't imagine that coaches are pleased. They guard their game tape like its gold. Now everyone can watch and everyone can make judgments on who played well and who didn't on a play. We still don't know what defensive coverage is called, so the entire story isn't told, but providing more access is a wonderful thing to give to the fans.
- How much impact will this rookie class have? Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry will have a chance to contribute to the defensive line rotation, Mychal Kendricks is a starting linebacker and Brandon Boykin is competing at cornerback and in the return game. Not bad at all, with more to come.
- Is Jason Kelce ready to push for some Pro Bowl recognition? He's got that kind of upside, for sure. Kelce has quickly rounded into a top center and a leader on this team. You're looking at the team's' center for the next decade, a very comforting feeling.
- I liked what I saw from Demetress Bell in the spring, but we will know a lot more when the pads go on. He's athletic, he has long arms and he has a strong punch. Howard Mudd is going to have some work to do to round out the entire offensive line group, but he has a lot of talent here to work with.