NOBODY SEEMED real alarmed by DeSean Jackson's absence from the start of the final week of Eagles OTAs. Wideouts Jason Avant, Hank Baskett and maybe Riley Cooper got more reps with first-string quarterback Kevin Kolb, and Jeremy Maclin might have gotten a little more scrutiny from reporters, as the top target present.
A source close to Jackson said the ascending star was in Atlanta yesterday, hanging with Hawks forward Josh Smith, with plans to spend the rest of the week on his home turf of Los Angeles, returning to Philadelphia next week. Of course, the final OTA day is Thursday, then the Eagles won't be on the field again until Lehigh, so Eagles coaches probably would prefer DeSean had penciled them in for this week instead of next. But these workouts are voluntary, and it isn't that rare for a player to skip all or part.
"I haven't talked to him. There's no cause [for alarm] as far as I know," Kolb said. Kolb agreed that he and Jackson have worked together enough that the wideout missing this week's drills wouldn't be a setback. "We worked together a lot, we did a lot in the offseason before minicamps or anything ever started. So we've gotten a lot of work in, and we look forward to obviously working together and getting better in the future."
It certainly isn't unusual for a player unhappy with his contract to stage a sort of silent protest; it has happened several times with various Eagles - last year with Sheldon Brown - and as long as the player in question shows up for training camp, Andy Reid doesn't seem to get too bent out of shape.
The source close to Jackson did not say why No. 10 will not be on the field this week. Agent Drew Rosenhaus did not respond to a request for comment. Ditto Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Jackson's absence was not contract-related; Schefter said he didn't know the reason. Unless Jackson surfaces with a credible explanation, it's likely his contract status and his absence will remain linked in the public mind.
"I don't think it's any cause for alarm. I don't know the reason or anything like that, but I'm pretty sure he's fine," Avant said. "We're glad about the week that he came. It's not a mandatory camp . . . We know that he's going to train wherever he is. He's a hard worker. We'll see him when he gets back."
Also absent yesterday was corner Asante Samuel, who was attending to a family matter, the Eagles said. It would seem that Samuel told the team he wasn't coming, while Jackson did not.
"That's nothing for me to answer," Maclin said, when asked if Jackson had told him he wouldn't be present this week. "You've got to ask that guy that question."
Last year, Jackson made the Pro Bowl as a wideout and as a punt returner, bursting into NFL stardom as a second-year player. He is scheduled to make about $480,000 in 2010, the third year of a 4-year, $3 million deal in line with what second-round picks get. But second-round picks who become huge stars sometimes are rewarded with reworked contracts, which is what Jackson has said he would like. He also has said he is willing to be patient, and that he understands that the expiring CBA complicates his situation - there's a 30 percent cap on year-to-year increases. The only way to do it, seemingly, would be to give Jackson a huge signing bonus; it would have to be big enough to make up not just for what he isn't making this year, but next year and for however long after that the deal would be extended.
The Eagles have not seemed inclined to go in that direction, though they have said they would like to give Jackson a new deal. So far, Jackson has not seemed inclined to press the matter or to dramatize his plight.
With so much in flux already this offseason, keeping Jackson happy would seem to be a huge priority. He, 2009 first-rounder Maclin and emerging tight end Brent Celek ought to give new starter Kolb a strong group of targets.
"We've definitely got a lot of weapons for a lot of balls," Maclin said. He caught 56 passes for 773 yards and four TDs as a 21-year-old rookie; the Eagles calculated that Maclin, Jackson and Celek were the first trio of teammates 24 or younger to catch at least 50 passes for at least 750 yards and four TDs apiece.
"I didn't expect not to come in and play like that. That was my goal, to come in and earn a spot," said Maclin, who was drafted 19th overall in 2009.
One theory posited this offseason is that the switch from Donovan McNabb to Kolb will be good for Maclin, tabbed as the "possession receiver" to Jackson's deep threat. This theory characterizes McNabb as a strong-armed bomber and Kolb as more precise and not as comfortable with the long ball.
The idea of Maclin catching a lot of passes sounds pretty good to him, of course, but he said he isn't sure he and Jackson fit neatly into those pigeonholes.
"The dude has tremendous speed. He can run by anybody. He's going to get a lot of those chances downfield, but I think that was [just] kind of how the stats went," Maclin said. "I definitely think [an enhanced short passing game] is something to look at, to get the ball in my hands in ways like that. But at the same time, I'm still one of the fastest guys on the team, besides DeSean. I can definitely stretch the field as well."
Maclin said he doesn't see the Eagles de-emphasizing the deep ball.
"When you've got guys out there who can run like me and DeSean, why would you take that out?" he asked.
Maclin doesn't seem worried about his status, next to the league's latest speed sensation.
"With an offense like this, with so many talented guys, the tight ends, with me, DeSean and Jason, big games are going to rotate," he said. "It's [hard to tell] who's going to have the big game on any given day. Obviously, DeSean's going to receive a lot of attention, which is going to open up a little space for me and Jason."
None of the players who was injured by the end of last week's activities returned yesterday. Left guard Todd Herremans (foot) was not on the field when reporters were present, but middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (calf), running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) and tackle Fenuki Tupou (chest muscle) all ran sprints after the team workout, as did center Jamaal Jackson, who is rehabbing a torn ACL and will not be practicing before mid-August, at the earliest.
Daily News sports writer Tyler Dunne contributed to this report.
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.