It's unlikely that a veteran player from head coach Andy Reid's early teams would recognize the makeup of the team's current locker room. Sure, players like Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and DeSean Jackson haven't moved. But very little has stayed the same since the first few years of Reid's tenure.
In those days, players who made a boneheaded mistake on defense were sure to get an earful from Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter on the sidelines. But those players are gone, replaced by veterans like Cole, Cullen Jenkins and, most recently, DeMeco Ryans.
Now in his fifth year, wide receiver Jackson is perhaps the youngest link to that past. He was a rookie in 2008 when the Eagles, led by Dawkins, defied the odds and reached the NFC Championship Game. When Jackson looks around the locker room, he notices a different atmosphere.
"When I came in it was a little different, just with the leadership and personnel that was here. Those folks are not here anymore, so the team that presents itself now, whoever it is, is going to have to be that person," Jackson said after practice Wednesday. "As far as anybody being that vocal guy, there's really not anyone in this team like a Brian Dawkins that pumps the team. We don't have anyone like that."
That isn't to say the team has no leaders. In Ryans' case, his reputation as a leader preceded him. Though he's a new face in the locker room, he commands the respect of his teammates. Players like Cole, Jackson and Jason Avant prefer to let their play on the field do the talking.
"When I was here, when I was a young guy coming up with this organization, that's who we counted on – Brian Dawkins, (Brian) Westbrook, guys like that (who were) here eight, seven, 10 years, whatever the case may be," Jackson said. "With the guys here now, we just have to mold together and figure out a way to get it done."
The questions about leadership have arisen in the midst of the Eagles' struggles. For Jackson, the issue isn't so much having one player rallying the troops. It's about self-policing and players holding themselves responsible. In this game, the mental aspect is every bit as important as the physical.
"It's a tough situation, being 3-7 and losing six games in a row," Jackson said. "Throughout the course of the game, when adversity hits, that frustration might be able to settle in because it presents itself. That's the difficult thing is trying to find any way not to get down or say, 'Oh no, here we go again,' and just be positive and uplift spirits.
Winning cures all ills in the NFL, and a win would likely do wonders for the players' spirits. They'll have a perfect opportunity to get back on track against a struggling Panthers team on Monday night. Jackson knows a win will take perseverance and grit, just like it does in good times and bad.
"I think everybody knows who to look to and who to count on when certain times get rough," Jackson said. "I think the guys do a good job of still working hard and not giving up. As long as we still do that, things should be alright."
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