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DeSean Jackson, who hasn't been a full-time punt returner since the first half of the 2011 season, returned just one punt for the Eagles last season. (USA Today Images)
He’s waiting. Just like you’re waiting. Just like everybody’s waiting.
DeSean Jackson hasn’t been a full-time punt returner since the first half of the 2011 season, and he didn’t return a single punt during the Eagles’ four preseason games.
He handled punt return duties in only one of the last six games of 2011 and had just one punt return in his injury-shortened season last year.
That doesn’t mean you won’t see him do it. Soon.
Jackson has been practicing punt returns on a regular basis, and head coach Chip Kelly said he plans to use Jackson at some point to bring back punts, if not on a full-time basis than situationally.
Jackson ranks sixth among active NFL players with a 10.5 career punt return average, and his four punt return touchdowns are a franchise record and tied for 18th-most in NFL history.
But Andy Reid and former special teams coach Bobby April grew reluctant to use Jackson over the last couple years, and last year, undrafted rookie Demaris Johnson handled punts, ranking second in the NFC with 11.2 yards per return – although a third of his yards came on one club-record 98-yard touchdown.
Johnson averaged 21.3 yards on punt returns and 27.2 yards on kickoff returns in the preseason, both very good figures. And the speedster from Tulsa is expected to handle kickoffs once the regular season begins on Monday night against the Redskins at FedEx Field.
But Jackson is ready and willing to resume punt return duties.
He’s just waiting for the call.
“You might see it Monday night,” Jackson said. “I’ll be excited about it, be able to go back there and make some big plays for my team, something I’ve always been capable of doing. It’s all on Chip Kelly. When I get the call, I’ll be ready for it.”
Jackson led the NFL with 15.2 yards per return in 2009, but that dropped to 11.6 in 2010 and 6.7 in 2011. He lost three yards on his only return last year.
In his first three NFL seasons, Jackson averaged 11.2 yards per punt return with all four TDs. The last two, he’s averaged 6.2 with no TDs.
Kelly said that just because Jackson didn’t bring back punts in the preseason games doesn’t mean he won’t do it in the real games.
“I know DeSean can return punts,” he said. “ We don't need to expose him in the preseason. But there will be a time when DeSean's back there.”
But when? And how much?
And is it a big deal that Jackson hasn’t done it at all in the preseason and just once last year?
That means since last preseason ended, Jackson has fielded exactly one live punt.
And his return went for negative yardage.
But Jackson said rust is not a factor.
“I don’t think so, honestly,” he said. “Regardless, I practice it. They come down the same way, it’s just not live.
“But really just being able to have the reps and knowing when guys are coming, when to be smart, when to try to take a return, things like that. Just really going out there and having a feel for it, I feel I’ve done that my whole life, so regardless of me being rusty or not, I think I’ll be fine.”