If new special teams coordinator Bobby April has it his way, DeSean Jackson will remain the team's primary punt returner for a long time.
Jackson led the NFL with a 15.2-yard punt return average in 2009, returning a pair for touchdowns. He also established himself as a big-play receiver and became the first player in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl at two positions.
Much like with Brian Westbrook early in his career, questions are sure to be raised as to whether Jackson could become so valuable to the offense that his role as returner could diminish.
April, however, is a firm believer that a player can impact a game just as much in the return game as he can as a receiver.
"I always tell the guys that the punt return is the first play of the offensive series," April said on a conference call Thursday evening. "I'm a 1,000 percent in stating that is an offensive play.
"In my mind, there is no difference. I think whether a guy gets the ball handed to him, passed to him, or punted to him, kicked to him ... When he's got the ball in his hands and he's trying to advance on the opponents' goal line, that's an offensive play. Any time you're moving the ball toward their goal line, that's an offensive play."
Though he has yet to meet Jackson, April says he has a pretty good idea of what his new prized pupil means to a team's return game.
"He's exceptional," said April. "He's electric. There's no doubt about that when he gets his hands on the ball."
The dynamic Jackson was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice last season and earned NFC Special Teams Player of the month honors in both September and October. On Thursday, Jackson earned second-team All-Pro honors from The Associated Press.
Over 18 NFL seasons, April has coached some great returners, including Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and most recently, Roscoe Parrish in Buffalo. Parrish enjoyed his best season in 2007, when he averaged 16.3 yards on 27 returns. He returned three punts for touchdowns over the last four years in Buffalo.
April said Jackson is similar to both Parrish and Sanders in terms of movement, ability to cut and vision.
"He certainly has that kind of ability at any moment, at any time, to bring instant momentum to a football team," April said. ""He's got all the ability and he exercises that ability. Obviously, it will have to be coupled with a lot of great effort by 10 people to give him the space and the opportunity and the vision to make those plays.
"We'll have to make sure that he has the opportunity to be exceptional. We have to make sure he keeps improving, He'll have to stay disciplined, he'll have to stay hungry, he'll have to keep learning."
-- Posted by Bob Kent, 6:43 p.m., January 14