It's an interesting paradox for DeSean Jackson, in his 13th NFL season, coming off an injury that ruined what was all set up to be a superstar 2019 campaign, working past and learning from a summer social media mistake that was inexcusable and has required him to "educate myself," and at the same time living in the moment as a hugely key piece of the Eagles' offense preparing for the regular-season opener on Sunday at FedEx Field against Washington.
It's "go" time for a man who lives for the thrill of the speed. To reach this point, he's had to do some soul searching and some real boots-on-the-ground work to overcome the Instagram posts, and he's certainly had to reinvent himself after suffering a Week 2 core injury in 2019 that morphed into surgery and limited Jackson to just three games played.
The letdown was crushing for a man who returned to Philadelphia with all kinds of high hopes and large expectations for himself and the football team that selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
"Over the past few months, I kind of had to reflect on life. People make mistakes in life and it's just a mistake I made and I had to own up to it as a man, which I did," Jackson said. "I think I'm taking the proper steps and educating myself and learning from something I really didn't know too much about."
Jackson's social media post drew a sharp rebuke from the Eagles, including Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, and a set of guidelines and expectations was laid out for Jackson, who says he has followed the required plan. Lurie said the same thing when he met the media a couple of weeks ago.
With that behind him, Jackson is ready for some football. Big-time, big-play football.
"I know what I'm capable of doing when I'm healthy when I'm out there on that field, what I bring to this team," Jackson said. "I look forward to Sunday. It's been a long time coming, it seems like, the season. It's taken forever to come but, shoot, we're just a couple of days away now."
Jackson opened 2019 in a spectacular way with eight receptions, 154 yards, and a pair of 50-plus-yard touchdowns. He was off to exactly the kind of start he dreamed about. But one week after the season-opening win over Washington, Jackson was injured early in a game at Atlanta and then played only one more game, weeks later against Chicago, and recorded one reception.
That was it.
Surgery followed and Jackson actually planned to play had the Eagles defeated Seattle in the Wild Card playoff game. It didn't happen and Jackson continued his rehab through the offseason.
"I feel good. I feel great right now," said Jackson, who has taken on a more rigorous stretching program and a cleaner diet to prepare for Year 13. He isn't a kid any longer, but he sure is the fastest player on the field and the Eagles plan to take advantage of it. Without Jackson on the field last year, the Eagles lost their most explosive threat in the vertical passing game and they reworked the offense down the stretch of the regular season to win four straight games and capture the NFC East title.
With Jackson on board, the offense has a much more varied and matchup-friendly (for the Eagles) appearance.
"I've been a firm believer that when I'm healthy and what I'm capable of doing, I feel like my track record speaks for itself," Jackson said. "I've been very fortunate and very blessed to play 12 seasons, going on my 13th, at a very high level. To do some things not (many) have done in this league, I'll take credit for that, putting in the hard work … going forward, the biggest thing I can say is that to stay healthy, you have to take care of your body. It doesn't come down to anything else. You have to know when to push and you have to know when to kind of take it down a little bit.
"The one game I did play in last year, everybody who was watching that game knows what DeSean Jackson can still do."
There are going to be doubters, and there are going to be critics, and Jackson, who says, "I've got a lot of juice left in me," is going to look past the harsh judgment. He wants everybody to "get your popcorn ready," echoing the words of a certain Terrell Owens some 15 seasons ago.
The Eagles need Jackson to be Jackson, to stay on the field and to bedevil defenses with his speed and ball-tracking ability. In his 13th season, Jackson knows he is in the twilight of his NFL seasons. He aims to make the most of 2020.
"I won't do a lot of talking this year," he said. "I'm going to let my play do my talking, and I can't wait to get it started. I look forward to Sunday."