It's a fairly simple concept. Get your most explosive player the ball. Somewhere along the line, Andy Reid lost touch with common sense. He took his most explosive offensive player — maybe the most explosive player in the league — and gradually decreased his touches. The results were predictable. Fewer big plays, fewer points and fewer wins. No more job in Philadelphia. DeSean Jackson averaged over eight touches per game his rookie season. That dipped to under seven his sophomore year and tumbled to under five before Reid was shown the door. Much of that has to do with his decreasing role as a punt returner. Jackson returned one punt last season, compared to 50 his rookie year, 29 his second season and 20 in year three. The former Pro Bowl returner has fielded fewer punts every year of his career, a discouraging trend for a player people pay to see with the ball in his hands. That is likely to change this season. Jackson was one of five players (Damaric Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Miller and Russell Shepard) returning punts at practice this week. He expects to do it during the season. "Punt return is going to be a big factor, kind of bring my niche back out there and help that punt return team," said Jackson, who holds the franchise record for punt return touchdowns with four, twice as many as greats like Brian Westbrook and Brian Mitchell. "Not only that, but just go out there and make plays, get that electrifying unit back out there to be able to go out there and score touchdowns." Johnson did a fair job (11.2 yards per return and a touchdown) as a punt returner his rookie season. He returned one 98 yards for a touchdown. But he's clearly not Jackson. Neither is Maclin, who has taken punts in practice throughout his career and served as an emergency option. It's more than Jackson's numbers too. Even when he isn't producing long returns, he's striking fear into the opposition, a level of trepidation that neither Johnson nor Maclin can replicate. Teams often punted away from Jackson, giving the Eagles better field position than the past two years when Jackson rarely returned punts. Jackson realizes his value increases if returning — even on a part-time basis — is part of his responsibilities. It's why he discussed the topic with Kelly not long after the new coach was hired. "It's kind of both. He wanted me back there and I wanted to be back there myself as well," Jackson said. "Last year being able to have Damaris come in here and take on that role helped me out a lot. I still missed a lot of opportunities where I was able to do things in the past, whether it was 20 yards, 50 yards or a touchdown. You really don't realize but it helps out a lot." The Eagles averaged just 10.3 yards per punt return this past season. Opposing teams average 13.6 yards per return. Kelly was a bit more coy than Jackson about who will be his returner this season. He cautioned not to look too deeply into who was returning punts at practice in mid-May. When asked about Maclin being among the candidates, he said it didn't mean much.
DeSean Jackson sounds like a man who will return punts this season for the Eagles
Newark Star-Ledger | May 18