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Eagles - Eagles draft pick DeSean Jackson sets record straight

DESEAN JACKSON met Terrell Owens, however briefly, at a promotional appearance in Los Angeles last weekend. Jackson ended up meeting Freddie Mitchell at a workout a few months back, also in LA.

"You've gotta want the ball," DeSean Jackson said. But he doesn't want to be as divisive as Terrell Owens. (Photo by Ben Liebenberg/
"You've gotta want the ball," DeSean Jackson said. But he doesn't want to be as divisive as Terrell Owens. (Photo by Ben Liebenberg/ moreNFL

DESEAN JACKSON met Terrell Owens, however briefly, at a promotional appearance in Los Angeles last weekend. Jackson ended up meeting Freddie Mitchell at a workout a few months back, also in LA.

Jackson wants to be that playmaking wideout Eagles fans covet, but he said yesterday he does not want to be T.O. - at least not in the sense of "talking about your teammates'' - and he does not want to be Freddie, the guy Jackson has heard "talked his way out of the league.''

There are pitfalls to be avoided here, concerns to be addressed, as Jackson begins his Eagles career a month after being drafted in the second round, 49th overall, out of Cal. And they don't all have to do with the now-famous Scouting Combine revelation that he is 5-10, 169, instead of Cal's 6-foot, 178 listing.

Jackson has an ego, isn't shy about touting his own abilities. When his college team flopped spectacularly the second half of last season, from 5-0 to 6-6, stalling his bid for the Heisman, he acknowledges he grew frustrated, and talked about wanting the ball.

"The top-notch guys, the guys who really go out there and make big plays, and expect the ball to always be in their hands when the game's on the line, I definitely feel like you have to have, not a chip on your shoulder, but you have to have that within yourself,'' Jackson said yesterday, as he began a minicamp for Eagles rookies and select veterans that continues through tomorrow, before resuming next week. "You've gotta want the ball. You gotta know when it's a crucial time, you gotta step up for your teammates and for yourself and make big things happen. If you're a coach, you don't want your go-to receiver to not want the ball . . . the best of the best receivers want to be in that position.''

Jackson, whose 4.35 40 speed and ankle-breaking change of direction skill could make him a return game star right off the bat, has been the focus of attention his entire life, raised in the LA-area spotlight by an outspoken father and a large family that included four older brothers, everyone reveling in his successes.

"I had to be tough; they wouldn't let me be a punk,'' DeSean said yesterday. "The expectation level was always set high for me.''

Older brother Byron, a former member of the Chiefs' developmental squad, started filming DeSean's every movement when he was a preteen, and continued through his college career. DeSean was California's Mr. Football for Long Beach Poly High, one of the nation's most heralded programs; his last-second decision to turn down USC and become Cal's most celebrated recruit ever was a huge story.

Bill Jackson, DeSean's father, acknowledged back then that he had thought DeSean was going to stay nearby at USC until he announced otherwise.

"I love my family but I think I need to get away from them and gain some independence,'' DeSean said that day.

In fact, the independence thing remains a work in progress. Reached on the phone yesterday, Bill Jackson didn't need to be prompted to bring up Cal coach Jeff Tedford's main point of conflict with DeSean, an issue that NFL teams mulled going into the draft.

"His coach at Cal said we were too involved in his life,'' said Bill Jackson, 63, who is retired from FedEx. Moments earlier, he had concluded a phone conversation with DeSean in Philadelphia. "This is a real family. This ain't people in the street . . . I don't understand it. I worked hard all my life . . . we're a good family. Me and DeSean's mother, we've been separated for years, but you wouldn't know it. I'm at her house right now . . . I ain't never been in jail. I'm a good citizen, I vote. I saw on TV before the draft, about [running back] Darren McFadden's mother [having been addicted to cocaine]. I see things on the Internet about me being a bad parent.

"I ask coach Tedford, 'Why not be involved with your children?' . . . I've heard Andy Reid doesn't want me anywhere near his facility. I'm like, 'Damn, what did I do?' ''

Bill Jackson said Reid shouldn't be concerned, that having fled his native Pittsburgh for Southern California many years ago, he has little inclination to return to Pennsylvania, except for games, and then only "if it's warm.''

Tedford and DeSean had a talk a few days after the Bears' victory over Louisiana Tech last season. Bill Jackson had been interviewed on TV at halftime, and he had wondered aloud why his son wasn't getting more touches. (The answer was a thumb injury.)

"With outside opinions and outside advice always eating at DeSean, he was in a very tough spot,'' Tedford said yesterday, when asked about that discussion. "He's trying to be a team guy, trying to fit in and play his role, but dealing with outside information always eating at him, and not always positive. It ended up putting him in a very difficult position. He's had to deal with a lot of different people's opinions being shot at him. That's where I think he has grown, and will continue to grow, on being his own man, using his own common sense. Being part of the meetings and the offense, he knows better than the outsiders what is going on.''

DeSean said yesterday he didn't resent his father's televised remarks.

"My dad, he only wants the best for me,'' he said. "It's hard for me too, when I'm not catching the ball . . . It's not selfish or anything like that; he wants to see his son doing good.''

DeSean prepared for the draft with Jerry Rice, a fellow client of DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment. They talked about how not to get jammed off the line, but they also talked about trickier issues, such as maturity, how not to be perceived as a diva.

"Being young, coming out after my junior year, I felt like my game film would speak for itself,'' said DeSean, 21, who scored 29 touchdowns, altogether, in just 36 college games. His six punt-return touchdowns are a Pac-10 record. "All the things people said [going into the draft] - I'm not the first [in line in drills], I don't work hard, I don't lift weights, I'm not a team player, I honestly don't know where all that comes from . . . It is what it is, negative things got out, I had to pay for it. If that means going from the first round to the second round . . . I'm into the NFL, everything else I've got to leave behind. I've got to start a clean page here with the Eagles.

"One of the biggest things I learned with Jerry Rice was off-the-field . . . leaving good impressions on people, talk to everybody in a room, not just shake a couple hands here and there, how to handle training camp, you got to get into the playbook, work hard. There's going to be a big difference.''

Tedford said if the Eagles fashion the proper environment for Jackson, he will work hard and he should succeed.

"I don't know that he worked as hard he could have, because he's a very natural player,'' Tedford said. "Now that he's in the NFL, and he has to compete with guys who are all as good as he is, he'll figure out he needs to work . . . He got away with doing things on natural ability a lot at this level, that he probably won't be able to do at that level. I don't think he's opposed to it, but he'd probably even admit he can work harder.

"I don't think DeSean is malicious, or a detriment, in any way, shape or form . . . He's young . . . I think he will continue to grow, but I think he's a good-hearted person who wants to do well. I think if he surrounds himself with the right people, who lead him in the right direction, he will definitely want to go in that direction. I have no doubt that DeSean does have the character and the characteristics to be a good person and a great player.''

Bill Jackson wants the right kinds of people around DeSean, as well. He has one type of person in particular in mind.

"DeSean has not had a quarterback since he played Pop Warner football. He didn't have a real quarterback at Long Beach Poly or at Cal,'' Bill Jackson said.

Then he made an interesting comparison with another bright-lights athlete whose outspoken parent was sometimes an issue during his time in Philadelphia.

"With Donovan McNabb . . . I think DeSean will be the next Iverson in Philadelphia,'' Bill Jackson said. *