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Eagles hope to benefit from a revitalized Jackson

After a subpar last couple of seasons, DeSean Jackson has demonstrated a renewed commitment to excellence under coach Chip Kelly.

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

MICHAEL VICK and DeSean Jackson did something after practice yesterday that they rarely did in the 4 years they played together under Andy Reid.

They watched film together.

No, they didn't sneak out of the NovaCare Complex to go watch "Kick-Ass 2" or "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters." They found a quiet room and reviewed some defensive video of the Eagles' third preseason opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While watching film is mandatory for a quarterback, it's never been high on Jackson's list of priorities. But that was before he, like Vick, became a convert to the Church of St. Chip.

"I think DeSean knows now what's really important," said Vick, who last week credited Kelly with helping him fall in love with the game of football again. "He understands the big picture. And that's longevity in this league. Being one of the best. Striving for something and trying to be the best receiver you can be.

"We both made a promise to each other. We don't know if [it's] in our future, but at least we can shoot for greatness. It's a goal. You have to have something to lean on. It keeps you working hard, keeps you here every day, keeps you motivated.

"He understands that great people are those who make others great as well. So we're leaning on each other for that."

Who ever thought we'd see the day Vick would be quoting Mark Twain? And who ever thought we'd see the day that football finally would become important to Jackson again?

"Hopefully, it bodes well for our team," veteran wide receiver Jason Avant said of Jackson's film watching, not Vick's Twain quoting. "I know DeSean is definitely motivated. He wants to get back to his play in his early years when he excelled."

A cynic might suggest that the fact that the 26-year-old wideout happens to be entering the second year of a 5-year, $51 million deal in which only the first 2 years are guaranteed could have something to do with Jackson's renewed enthusiasm for catching passes.

And if that's the case, well, that's just fine and dandy with Kelly. He's much more interested in results than the motivation behind those results. If the quest for more Benjamins floats Jackson's boat, more power to him.

"I think DeSean has had a fantastic camp," the Eagles coach said yesterday. "He shows up every day. He's been out there every single day. I think he's improved. He's getting stronger in the weight room.

"He's another guy that's kind of bought in to what we've asked him to do and helped him make himself a better player. I'm excited to see him once the [regular] season gets along, because I think he's a huge advantage for us, because he can create some [one-on-one] mismatches out there."

Much like Vick, Jackson really hasn't play very well since the middle of the 2010 season, which was about the same time he suffered his second concussion in less than a year when he got drilled by then-Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson. It didn't help that he spent most of the 2011 season in a funk over a contract stalemate with the team.

In his last 33 games, the two-time Pro Bowler has only five 100-yard receiving games and seven touchdown catches. The player who once was viewed as one of the league's most dangerous vertical threats, has only seven receptions of 40 yards or more in the last 2 years, which is three fewer than he had in '09 alone.

His yards-per-catch average has dropped from a career-high 22.5 in 2010 to 16.6 in 2011 to 15.6 last year. He has only 21 third-down catches the last 2 years, which is 14 fewer than Jason Avant, 11 fewer than Brent Celek, five fewer than Jeremy Maclin, and only three more than running back LeSean McCoy. And he has only four red-zone receptions the last 2 years, after having 12 in his first three NFL seasons.

Kelly got his attention early in the spring OTAs when he demoted Jackson and had him taking reps with the second-team because he didn't know the route responsibilities of all three wide-receiver positions, which is a must in Kelly's offense.

Since then, Jackson has been a model citizen at NovaCare. He impressed Kelly by reporting to training camp in outstanding shape and acing the conditioning test. Since then, he has been one of the offensive stars of the preseason. Caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Vick against the Patriots 2 weeks ago.

"It proved to me he spent a lot of time this summer investing in himself," Kelly said. "That's what we talked about before he left. We said the sky's the limit for him, and he could be a real special player in this league. But he's got to make that decision that he wants to be."

For now at least, Jackson wants to be. He's rediscovered the drive he had earlier in his career, before the concussions, before the contract battle, before his football business started taking a back seat to his music business.

"This year for myself is a huge year," he said the other day. "I've worked so hard to get back after last year, when I broke two ribs and had torn cartilage in my sternum area. Anything I can do to get back to when I first came into this offense and came into this league, that's what I'm here to do.

"I almost had a reality check for myself. I've gone back to the things I was doing when I first came in here. How hungry, how motivated I was. Just taking constructive criticism from the guys. [I've told them] if you see anything I'm doing [wrong], just tell me. I want to be the best I can be. I want to go out there and prove all the naysayers and all the negativity wrong. That's what I'm doing."

That could be very good news for the Eagles' offense.

"For a guy like him, it's not going to take a whole bunch to be better than most guys because his athletic ability is so much higher than everybody else's," Avant said.

"When you see him do the things the coaches have asked him to do, like be here in the offseason, work out in the weight room, do those different types of things . . . he spent extra time here [at NovaCare] this offseason. That's definitely an indication [of his renewed commitment]. Because if you can get him just to do that, he's going to be better."

On Twitter: @Pdomo