By David F. Cohen
For the Washington Redskins to get their guaranteed $16 million money’s worth from DeSean Jackson he’ll have to do something he didn’t do enough with the division rival Eagles last season: be professional. No more blowing off team meetings and arguing with coaches. Jackson must be all in on making the most of his second chance. It’s early, but he’s acting as if he gets it.
“I’m a new, unfamiliar face here,” Jackson said after tweaking his hamstring on Thursday. “Just rubbing elbows with the guys and putting in the work. . . . Getting in where I fit in.”
New Redskins Coach Jay Gruden hasn’t witnessed the type of I’m-the-center-of-the-universe nonsense that prompted Eagles coach Chip Kelly to cut Jackson surprisingly in late March.
“The players have embraced him. The coaches have embraced,” Gruden said. “As long as he comes to practice, with the right head on his shoulders and [is] willing to work, which he has so far, [Jackson’s past issues will] never be an issue” with the Redskins.
Jackson, Redskins players are eager to tell you, has been a model teammate.
“We’ve gotten to know him,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “We’re happy with what we know.”
Jackson is bright and immensely talented. He’s capable of being one of the league’s most productive deep threats, which he was last fall while totaling 82 catches, 1,332 yards (a 16.2-yard average) and nine touchdowns. And he’s just 27.
None of that mattered to Kelly who was reportedly tired of Jackson’s in-game shouting match with his position coach on the sideline last season that hastened his departure from the organization that drafted him. The fact that Jackson’s former teammates didn’t rush to support him publicly lends credibility to Kelly’s move.
Last fall, the Redskins went 3-13, finishing last in the NFC East division for the fifth time in six seasons. Former coach Mike Shanahan was at war with Griffin. The organization had more leaks than an old roof. This franchise was a mess long before Jackson arrived.
Without taking some risks, the Redskins will remain stuck in reverse. And if you have to take a chance, it might as well be on a player who covers the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.
Jackson understands he has “a job to do, which is to go out there and produce,” he said. “And doing what I need to do as a professional . . . that’s what matters the most.”
The Redskins have lacked a game-changer at wideout since Santana Moss, who turns 35 in June, was young. With Jackson and fellow newcomer Andre Roberts on the field, Pierre Garcon should have more room to maneuver. But it all starts with Jackson. His ability to get open down the field could do wonders for Griffin.
“He’s just a talent, man,” Moss said of Jackson, a 2009 first-team all-pro selection as a punt returner. “When you look at what he can do . . . he’s one of these guys who’s just gifted.
“So many years, I played here, and we didn’t have no one else [at the outside receiver position]. Now, we have Pierre; we have Dre [Roberts]. It’s just fun to be around these guys.”
Moss is a leader in the locker room. He’s also a hard worker who puts his teammates first. In Phily, Jackson was considered a “me” guy. Jackson no longer plays for the Eagles, Moss reminded reporters Thursday, and his slate is clean with the Redskins.
“There’s always two sides to every story,” Moss said. “To tell you the truth, I don’t want to hear about the story, about what went on. He’s here now. As long as he act right, do what he have to do here . . . that’s all we have to worry about.”
After the Eagles gave Jackson the boot, the Redskins gave him a job. They’re counting on him to prove he deserves it.