The thing about great returners who put up numbers over the long term is, often they're guys who are limited to special teams.
If a returner is a key starter, particularly on offense, he tends to phase out of regular returning as the years and dings accumulate. Brian Westbrook is an excellent example of this. Brian Mitchell would be the other type, the guy who made his living primarily as a returner.
DeSean Jackson is putting up punt-return numbers this season beyond what anybody in Eagles history has ever done. His 17.8-yard average leads the NFL, and in less than two full seasons, he has become the first Eagle to return three punts for touchdowns.
Special-teams coordinator Ted Daisher talked about this yesterday, but when asked about putting Jackson up with the great returners of this era, Daisher said Jackson would have to continue his excellence a few years longer.
Will Jackson, the Birds' top offensive weapon, get that chance? Daisher said he will.
"I think his role here is already defined," Daisher said. "He is our playmaker. He makes plays on offense. I think to take the ball out of his hands as a punt returner would be a mistake, because he creates plays for our team, creates field position, he creates big plays for us, gives us an opportunity to be successful, and I'm sure he'll be in this role for quite a while."
With Westbrook, the issue was limiting his touches, trying not to overburden him. Jackson is a wideout, not a running back, and the Birds are looking for ways to get him the ball more often. Daisher was asked what impressed him the most, watching the tape of that 72-yard touchdown return against the Giants.
"His patience," Daisher said. "He was trapped. It was a great punt by [Jeff] Feagles. He had him over to the boundary, just what you want to do, he tried to [move toward the middle of the] field, they cut him off to the field, and he was patient enough to move around a little bit and create a little space. He saw the seam down the sideline and he has the explosiveness to get through the seam when it's there, and he has the speed to finish it for a touchdown."
Daisher came to the Eagles last offseason from the Browns, where he had kickoff returner Josh Cribbs, a similar talent. "In Cleveland, when there was a kickoff return getting ready to happen, our team stopped and watched, because you were always going, 'What's going to happen?' " Daisher recalled. "This could be a big play, one of those plays that you don't want to miss, and I see those kinds of plays with DeSean. When he gets back there, everybody is going to want to watch, because you may see something that you haven't seen before. He's that type of player."
Speaking of returns
Quintin Demps is very happy to be back in the kickoff-return role he performed so capably in last season. Demps got one return last week against the Giants, a 30-yarder, and that convinced Daisher that he ought to get a better shot this week. The Eagles have tried Jeremy Maclin and Macho Harris returning kickoffs since Ellis Hobbs went down for the season with a neck injury.
"Yeahh, yeahhh, yeahhhh, yeahhhhh," Demps said, when asked his reaction. "I'm excited."
Demps said he doesn't think he will be rusty since the job doesn't call for much precision. "Just run, man. Put your nose down and run," he said.
Another kind of return
Marty Mornhinweg disclosed that wideout Kevin Curtis is scheduled to play this week, at least in a limited role, Curtis' first action since Game 2.
"There is a plan for Kevin Curtis," Mornhinweg said. "I think he'll be effective within that plan."
Curtis, who had knee surgery Oct. 24, said: "I expect to play. Obviously, with Jeremy [Maclin] getting hurt here, we're a little short. If he's not able to go, I'll have somewhat of a role."
Curtis said he has "spent plenty of games on the sideline this year. The chance to get on the field is a lot better than watching." Asked how close he is to being full speed, he said: "I'm making progress. That's the biggest thing . . . I feel better this week than I did last week. I'm getting there."
Tight end Brent Celek, with the ouchy back, was a limited practice participant. "I'm getting better," he said . . . Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (foot) did not practice and is not expected to play . . . Running back Brian Westbrook was a limited participant, and is not expected to play . . . According to ESPN's Brian Seltzer, the co-host of "The DeSean Jackson Show," the upshot from that strange business Wednesday, when Jackson pretended to not know anything about getting fined by the league after opening an envelope from the NFL, was that Jackson incurred a $2,000 fine for a "uniform violation" . . . This week's game is the annual "Toys for Tots" drive. Fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped book or toy to Lincoln Financial Field.