In the most recent issue of Sporting News magazine, wide receiver DeSean Jackson talks at length about the "new" Eagles, his role on the team and, yes, about the departed Donovan McNabb. Jackson said nothing that would spark a controversy, only that he believes so much in Kevin Kolb that he thinks the Eagles will pick right up offensively with Kolb running the offense and McNabb in Washington.
Of course, the story becomes a controversy when only a snippet of the question-and-answer session is revealed, and so McNabb had to answer questions in Washington over the weekend about Jackson's quotes. McNabb, from reading the reports, was put on the defensive when there really wasn't the need to do so.
Anyway, back in Philadelphia, Jackson is going to be a marked man now. Anyone looking for inflammatory remarks -- concocted or not -- will go looking for No. 10. And that could present an interesting situation for Jackson, who is clearly one of the leaders of this football team. He has been vocal about his comfort level as a leader, and those viewed as leaders by the public and by the media are generally ones who make themselves available to speak. So what is Jackson to do? He is a personable young man. He is full of life and love for the game. He is a fun guy to be around.
Does he now have to concern himself with every word he speaks? Does he make himself less available to the media? Does any of that youthful sheen peel away from Jackson's personality now that he has inadvertently started a "controversy" with his comments on McNabb?
Jackson's case is one to ponder as the Eagles take shape and as chemistry builds in the locker room. The obvious storyline of "Are the Eagles going to miss McNabb?" wasn't explored much during the post-draft camp given all of the new faces and the great sub-plots were discussed. But you can be sure moving forward that the topic of the post-McNabb Eagles will be discussed at length and that Jackson, among others, will be poked and prodded and asked numerous times in every which way how he feels about the change at quarterback.
And if Jackson -- and all of the Eagles -- aren't extremely careful, well, you know how it goes. Words are twisted and meanings are misconstrued and a non-story becomes a huge story in a matter of hours.
This is where leadership comes into play. Leadership isn't always measured in pre-game speeches and player-only meetings. Leadership is a mutual part of the game that is present every day, in every way. Jackson sees himself as a leader here, and understandably so. He leads by example, by the way he approaches the game and the toughness and desire that he shows in practice and in his dedication to the game. Jackson also happens to make a ton of plays, so his leadership is tangible by his numbers and his on-field production.
In his third season, Jackson is a remarkable profile. His reputation couldn't have been a whole lot worse after his career at Cal, and partly because of that rep he slipped to the second round of the 2008 draft. I remember taking the trip with the 2008 rookie class to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and speaking with Troy Vincent, who spoke -- along with Michael Irvin -- to the rookies representing both the Eagles and the Cowboys. Vincent took note of Jackson and his sunglasses and his swagger and wondered just how far that act would go in the NFL.
"He better be good," said Vincent. "He seems to attract a lot of attention."
Yeah, Jackson sure does. He is as charismatic a player as you will find, and he is -- beneath the confidence -- as hard a worker as you will find anywhere in the game. Jackson loves football, genuinely loves the game, and goes out week after week and plays like one of the best players in the league.
Is Jackson the leader on the Eagles? No. There isn't a single leader. There never has been a single leader. The Eagles have yet to create a personality as they turn over the roster, and head coach Andy Reid eagerly waits to see how it all comes together for his young team. Jackson is going to be one of the point players in the locker room, along with the likes of Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell, Asante Samuel, Brent Celek, Todd Herremans, Leonard Weaver and, yes, Kolb. And others, certainly. While the Eagles are young, they do not lack in veteran flavor or in those who will step into the role of leaders.
I've always believed that leaders prove themselves in the tough times, not in the winning-every-week periods. It's easy to lead when you're winning. It's much more difficult to deal with the media and to maintain a mature and positive perspective when times are tough, or even when there are perceived hardships or "controversies."
On the McNabb issue, well, you know this one isn't going away any time soon. The players need to be ready, and the truth is that they already are. The truth is that nobody has a right to criticize McNabb for the past, because he won a bunch of games and put playoff money in these players' pockets. He was their guy through the good times and otherwise. The Eagles made a change by trading McNabb to the Redskins, and now everyone throws their full support behind Kolb. They supported McNabb when he was here and they support Kolb now. That's really all Jackson said, even if his quotes were taken way, way out of proportion.
So, there is no controversy on this end, but there has to be a lesson learned. In way, a very important way, perhaps the understanding that the media are looking for criticism of McNabb will help develop the leadership and the chemistry that Reid craves. As the team finds itself, it will learn that the only ones to truly count on are the ones in that locker room, within those walls.