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Growing Pains

Physically, the two rookies who have had a significant impact on the Eagles this season are in different places. Receiver DeSean Jackson said his body is killing him.

Eagles rookie safety Quintin Demps (39) has given the team a steady kick returner, plus an heir apparent to Brian Dawkins.
Eagles rookie safety Quintin Demps (39) has given the team a steady kick returner, plus an heir apparent to Brian Dawkins.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Physically, the two rookies who have had a significant impact on the Eagles this season are in different places.

Receiver DeSean Jackson said his body is killing him.

"Shoulder hurts, groin hurts, hamstring hurts. My body is feeling it," he said yesterday.

Jackson, of course, wants to get to the playoffs, a long-shot proposition that requires a win over Dallas tomorrow and losses by Tampa Bay, a heavy favorite over Oakland, and a loss by either Minnesota or Chicago. But if the Eagles' season does end tomorrow, Jackson's disappointment will be mitigated by the opportunity to heal.

On the other hand, free safety Quintin Demps said he feels fine. If there are no playoffs for him, he would just as soon begin next season on Monday.

"I'll be a lot more comfortable [next season]," Demps said. "Especially with the defense we have - the blitz package, a real aggressive defense, a defense where the corners stay aggressive."

Jackson leads the Eagles with 60 catches and 866 receiving yards, second among the NFL's rookie receivers in both categories, but he is coming off his worst game of the season and sounded determined to prove it was a fluke. He dropped four passes in the 10-3 loss to Washington. In the fourth quarter, quarterback Donovan McNabb placed a perfectly thrown ball in Jackson's hands in the end zone. A touchdown and extra point would have tied the score.

Earlier in the half, Jackson took a big hit from Redskins safety LaRon Landry that forced him to sit out a few plays. Whether his subsequent dropped TD pass was a result of that hit isn't known, but Jackson got no sympathy from the coaches. The other day, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said, "I expect him to do a little bit better the next time he's banged up."

Yesterday, coach Andy Reid said: "He needs to do better, whether you're a rookie or not a rookie. When you have an opportunity to make a play, you make a play."

When Jackson was talking about his ailing body parts, he wasn't using them as an excuse for his ineffectiveness against the Redskins, who held him to two catches for 14 yards. He was just taking inventory of the toll his first professional season has taken on him.

Jackson said the Washington game taught him a lesson. He suggested that he lost his focus by getting upset because he believed he was wide open a few times when the ball wasn't thrown to him.

"If I'm open or something like that, I can't really get too excited," he said. "You've got to stay calm and wait for the one play to come. Last week, I kind of thought I was open a couple of times and they didn't give me the ball at a crucial time, and my mind was kind of messed up.

"I didn't have the best game last week, and everybody's like, oh, he dropped this or that. I look at it that I'm a young guy progressing in the NFL, so that's not going to hold me back. I'm going to come back this week. Nothing changed for me. The biggest thing is I came back to work this week and worked hard on the little things and never gave up."

The eighth pick in the second round of the draft, Jackson opened the season in the starting lineup because Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown were injured.

Demps has given the Eagles the kick returner they badly needed. He ranks among the top NFL rookies with a 25.8 yards per return average, and his 100-yard return for a touchdown against Baltimore was the longest by an Eagles rookie in team history.

Recently, Demps has been getting more playing time in the secondary. His first extended action was Thanksgiving night against Arizona. He had four tackles. Two weeks ago, he got his first career sack against Cleveland. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has praised Demps for his versatility, saying he is capable of playing both safety and cornerback.

"He's gotten better when he's had opportunities to be out there playing," Reid said yesterday. "The last few weeks, he's had those opportunities. I think Jim has confidence in him to put him out there in certain packages. He's a talented kid who wants to do well. He's improving every week."

Demps may get more playing time against the Cowboys if safety Brian Dawkins is weakened by an illness that forced him to miss practice yesterday. Demps said he was certain Dawkins would be ready.

"Dawk ain't missing this game for nothing," Demps said. "But I'll be ready, too."

Demps said that he has much to learn, but that he's pleased with the way he's coming along.

"But I'm never satisfied," he said. "I'm still hungry. I'm always hungry."

Extra points.

Defensive end Victor Abiamiri (sprained foot) is out for tomorrow's game and tight end L.J. Smith (shoulder) is doubtful. Dawkins, linebacker Stewart Bradley (fractured rib, groin pull), and wide receiver Hank Baskett (knee) were listed as questionable. Bradley said he was going to play. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis, who sat out last Sunday's game with a strained calf, is expected to play. . . . Demps said the chance to ruin the Cowboys' playoff hopes will give the Eagles plenty of incentive even if his team's hopes are gone by kickoff time. "They're on TV too much, you know what I mean?" Demps said. "I don't want to be sitting home watching them playing. They're coming to our house and we're going to put it on them."