Now that they've seen him for a couple of weeks on the football field, Eagles players are gushing about wide receiver DeSean Jackson. We all know him as the take-the-top-off-the-defense burner who tracks the deep throw as well as anyone who has played this game. We know him as the thrill-a-minute-No. 10.
His teammates have a taste now, too. And they love what they've seen.
"D-Jack makes the quarterback's job easy," said Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, reacquainted with Jackson after playing with him in the 2013 season. "He's a special, special player. We haven't had a player like him since he left six years ago. I couldn't tell you how excited I am to have him back. I couldn't tell you how much he's changed too in the past six years, just his approach to the game. He's such a good player. He can do anything he wants at the receiver position. There's no route he can't run, no play you don't want to get him involved in. Defenses just have to know where he is every play or it's going to be a 70-yard touchdown. He just makes everyone else's job so much easier. I couldn't be more thrilled to have him back.
"He's so complementary to my game. I'm the guy that's living between the numbers and he's the guy that's taking the top off the defense. I feel like we complement each other really well. The safeties, they cannot focus on me every snap like they typically do. If they do, DeSean's going to take a 75-yard touchdown pass. He's not a guy that needs the ball each and every play. He's a guy that the defense has to respect each and every play. If you don't respect DeSean, he's going to go off for 200 yards on three catches."
The theory, then, is that Jackson's speed down the field opens things up for Ertz and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert in the middle of the field, underneath the coverage. Everybody should benefit, really. Jackson is so smoooooottttthhhh and he runs with an incredible burst and his sudden ability changes the way defenses are going to play the Eagles.
There's a lot to work out with this, yes, but the upgrade is evident in the Organized Team Activities. When you add a player who very well could be the fastest receiver in the NFL (Jackson thinks he is!), then you understand the dynamic added to the offense.
"I think they've got to respect us," wide receiver Nelson Agholor said. "That's just the reality of it, man. We've got two Pro Bowl guys that have done it in this league. We've got a Pro Bowl tight end who is one of the best in this league. We've got a young tight end (Dallas Goedert) that is super-dangerous. We've got backs. We've got a young receiver coming in (J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) that I think is going to be a phenomenal player. At the end of the day, you've just got to respect us, man, especially because outside of the talent we have, we work so hard. And we're having a lot of fun doing what we do and we've got great coaches who are going to put us in position."
As for Jackson, well, he's been terrific. Agholor cites Jackson's energy, "That's my homie, man." Offensive coordinator Mike Groh says that Jackson has "been a joy to be around. Excited that he's here." Everyone acknowledges that Jackson will be a large part of the offense. To what degree, statistically, we don't know. That's to be determined.
Jackson is excited to be back at the NovaCare Complex, has been since the Eagles acquired him in a trade with Tampa Bay. He's long removed from the first time around here, having played in Washington and Tampa, and his veteran presence is valuable with a young receiver like Arcega-Whiteside asking questions about routes and timing and the "feel" of coverage. It's clear that Jackson wants to do everything right in his second go-around with the Eagles. His first time around, Jackson was the whirling, spectacular playmaker, the leader of the passing game.
He doesn't seem to care a lick about numbers now, other than winning football games.
"It's good to be an addition to what they've already got," Jackson said. "I'm just happy to be an addition to whatever it is that they need or that I need. Let's make it happen. I'm ready to get back into it … When I was here, I was young the first time around. Leaving and really stepping up and being a pro and taking my job seriously – not to say I didn't take it seriously before – but it took time to grow and just to learn. And where I'm at now, I'm seen a lot, I've been through a lot, so I have a lot to give back to the young guys. I have a lot to offer."
So far, so great with Jackson and his energy and his fit into the offense. Jackson honestly, truly feels he is back in his NFL home. The locker room, after a breaking-in period, is familiar. Jackson knows and respects and loves Doug Pederson – the quarterbacks coach when Jackson was here previously – as a head coach. Jackson knows he is here to help the Eagles win, no matter how many touches he gets each week.
"I'm here to amp guys up, run around, and make big plays," Jackson said, smiling. "That's what I do. That's why I'm here and I'm ready to get after it."