For the past six weeks, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has felt helpless, forced to watch from the sideline as his team struggled with ugly road losses and the passing game sputtered.
Jackson is no stranger to injury, having missed 14 games in the previous five seasons. But he said that didn’t make it any easier this time.
His long waiting game, however, might end Sunday.
The dynamic deep threat, who has been sidelined with an abdominal tear since early in the Week 2 loss to Atlanta, could play in some capacity when the Eagles (4-4) match up against the Chicago Bears (3-4) at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It’s been a while,” Jackson said Friday. “So, you know, I don’t want to overshoot the gun, get myself too over-amped up, but I’m just going through the process I need to go through to get to where I need to get to, so I can come back and help my team.”
Coach Doug Pederson made it sound more likely than not that the 32-year-old wideout would be healed enough to play.
“I’m optimistic that he’ll play," Pederson said at his Friday morning press conference. “He’s had a great week of practice.”
In the locker room a couple of hours later, Jackson was more subdued but said he should be OK to return.
“That’s the plan right now,” he said. “It’s been a long process, so we’ll see how it goes Sunday.”
What’s less clear is whether he will be back at full strength and speed.
“It’s kind of hard to gauge right now,” Jackson said. “It’s the first week back at practice and [I’m] just making the movements and adjusting, trying to get back in the flow of things, and taking it one day at a time. Trying to get the most out of recovery, and treating it responsibly.”
Jackson came out hot in his only full game this season, the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Washington Redskins. He finished the day with eight catches for 154 yards, including touchdown receptions of 51 and 53 yards.
But recovery from a soft-tissue strain is tricky, especially for speedsters such as Jackson, and his specific injury is rare among NFL players.
Jackson declined to answer questions about how the injury occurred and whether the healing has taken longer than he anticipated. (A few weeks ago, his longtime trainer said the plan was for Jackson to return for the Oct. 20 game against the Cowboys.)
“This is the first time I’ve gone through this,” Jackson said of the abdominal injury. “There’s a lot of things I’m uncertain about.”
Of course, Jackson said the last thing he’d want to do is reinjure himself and return to square one in the recovery process.
This week, he was a limited participant in practice, stretching and doing individual drills.
“Just going through everything I’m asked to go through, taking reps, just trying to extend it the best I can when I’m out there,” he said of the practice routine. “The biggest thing about this is not trying to overdo and do too much. You got to work your way back into it.”
If Jackson does take the field, it seems unlikely that Pederson would want to overtax his most dominant deep threat, given the Birds have a bye next week before hosting the unbeaten New England Patriots.
Asked whether Jackson would play at 100% or be used more as a decoy to free up other receivers, Pederson said: “I think any time DeSean’s on the field, defenses have to account for that speed and his receiving ability.
“Whether or not he’s the primary [target] on the route could be a different story,” the coach added. “It helps us as an offense when he’s on the field because he’s such a dynamic guy, a speed guy, and a good leader for our young guys.”
Jackson’s return would be good news for an Eagles offense that has struggled to get much of anything going in the passing game without him. When Jackson last played a full game, Wentz threw for 313 yards, including Jackson’s two long touchdowns. Since then, the Eagles have recorded fewer than 200 passing yards in four of their last five games.