BETHLEHEM — DeSean Jackson will arrive at Lehigh Wednesday with a spring in his step and a smile on his face, which is much different from the way he showed up at training camp last year.
Last summer, we got The Unhappy DeSean. The selfish, pouty-faced little child who cared more about getting a new contract from the Eagles than he did about helping them win a Super Bowl. Last summer, we got the DeSean everybody warned us about when he came out of college.
Upset over his stalled negotiations with the Eagles, Jackson skipped the first 11 days of training camp. And then, even when he finally did show up, well, he didn't really show up.
He had only four touchdown catches and two 100-yard receiving games, none after Week 4. Caught only two passes in the red zone. Had a team-high nine drops. His yards-per-catch average fell nearly 6 yards from the year before. Was suspended for one game for missing a meeting and benched in the fourth quarter of another for a lack of effort.
"Human naturewise, yes, it affected him," Eagles wide receivers coach David Culley said Monday. "It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn't do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn't. But it made him inconsistent. And that's where the human nature part of it comes in."
Culley acknowledged that Jackson was reluctant to run routes over the middle last season because he didn't want to risk injuring himself in the final year of his contract.
"I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to save himself because [he was thinking], 'I'm not under contract and I don't want to get hurt,'?" he said. "I don't think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, 'I don't want to get hurt because I don't have a contract.'
"The first 2?1/2 years he was here, that wasn't an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that."
The Eagles missed the playoffs for a lot of reasons last year. While their 38 turnovers and early-season defensive collapses certainly top the list, Jackson's bad attitude and inconsistent play were contributing factors.
According to club sources, Jackson's contract situation was one of the main points of contention between head coach Andy Reid and former club president Joe Banner. Reid feared Jackson would become a TO-type distraction if the Eagles didn't give him a new contract. But Banner thought the wide receiver was overvalued and let him stew.
Finally, in March, after general manager Howie Roseman replaced Banner as the team's chief contract negotiator, the Eagles signed Jackson to a team-friendly, 5-year deal that includes only $15 million in guaranteed money.
"Somebody told me a long time ago that you can't tell people how they feel," Roseman said. "But I think all of us perform better when we feel wanted. I think DeSean is primed to come to camp and work hard and have a productive season."
What a difference (the potential of) $47 million has made on the little fella. The pouty face is gone. He was walking on air at the team's OTA and minicamps. He was Mr. Hustle. Mr. Ultimate Team Guy.
"That was the DeSean I had the first 2 years," Culley said. "[The bitterness of his contract] is definitely behind him now. Matter of fact, since he's signed his contract, it hasn't even been mentioned, except to ask him when he's going to take us all out to eat. Which he still hasn't volunteered to do."
Jackson is not a volume pass-catcher. He has only 105 receptions the last two seasons, which is 28 fewer than Jeremy Maclin, and never has caught more than 62 balls in a season. But he is one of the game's most dangerous vertical threats.
He rarely sees single coverage, usually getting double- and even triple-teamed. In the Eagles' take-what-they-give-you passing game, that often results is some quiet afternoons for Jackson. In 29 starts over the past two seasons, he's finished with 50 receiving yards or fewer 14 times.
"What we have done — and coach [Marty] Mornhinweg has done a good job of this — is we move him around,'' Culley said. "We put him in the backfield. We put him inside where it's a little bit tougher to double him. We motion him a lot. We do those kinds of things. We have ways of getting [the double-teams] off of him.
"But when they do do that and take him away, that's when I've seen Jeremy and Jason [Avant] have really big games. So, eventually, they can't keep [double-teaming Jackson]. With Jeremy on one side and Jason inside, that's a tough deal when we're executing. So you can't take him out of the whole ballgame."
Jackson might be one of the most dangerous receivers in the league, but he's not one of the most patient. When he doesn't get the ball, he gets frustrated. When he gets frustrated, he dyes his eyebrows and attends his own funeral as a guy named Phil Shifley.
"He gets frustrated sometimes," Culley said. "So you have to look at the big picture. Last year, because of the things that went on [with his contract], he didn't see any picture. Now, I think he understands that."