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He’s 26 now. He’ll be 27 before the year is out. It’s an age where life stops being about potential, about what might be, and starts being about what you’ve done and who you are.
DeSean Jackson is fast and talented, a dynamic wide receiver who has the ability to beat the quickest corners in the NFL. He’s been a Pro Bowler. He could be again.
DeSean Jackson is small – listed at just 5-10, 175 pounds, which is a generous assessment by whoever makes those determinations – and there are questions about his durability. He appeared in just 11 games last year. He hasn’t played a full season since his rookie campaign.
DeSean Jackson is misunderstood. A documentary about his life, long in the making, was recently released to some acclaim. It lends insight into his background and upbringing, about the boy who became a man.
DeSean Jackson is a knucklehead. He still does silly and inadvisable things, like posting video of a lazy summer day spent doing flips into a pool while mothers everywhere worried about him cracking his noggin on the chlorine-soaked cement.
DeSean Jackson is all of those things today. But who will he be tomorrow?
It has been an interesting offseason for Jackson. He is, by turns, entertaining and enigmatic – but he is never boring.
He sent out some curious tweets, including one that got quite a bit of attention: "I'm high on life or pot. OK it's just the pot haha."
Jackson explained himself after that as only he can do, mashing together a mixture of “you’ve got it all wrong” and brand promotion.
“I'm talking about Jaccpot,” Jackson told CSN’s Derrick Gunn. “Jaccpot, two C's to the P-O-T. That's the pot. As far as anything else, I'm a role model. I look up to people who are doing the right things. I want people to look up to me the same way, kids and the whole nine. To clarify it's two c's and a pot -- that's Jaccpot. That's Jaccpot.”
Jaccpot. Two c’s and a pot. Got it.
What else? He made a music video called “Diamonds on my neck," which would come off as a not-so-original brag from another athlete turned wannabe rapper – if it didn’t feature Snoop Dogg/Lion.
There was the firing of former agent Drew Rosenhaus, the rumored partnership with Jay-Z, and the signing with new agent Joel Segal. There were also accusations that Jackson owed Rosenhaus – the man who helped him sign a five-year, $51 million deal – more than $400,000 in unpaid loans.
During all that, Jackson somehow found the time to defend Michael Vick and implore new head coach Chip Kelly to hurry up and name a starting quarterback already. That was in June -- nearly three months before the season. (Last week, Jackson also predicted on various ESPN programs that Vick will win the gig.)
That last bit came around the same time Jackson was forced to answer questions about his role with the team. Kelly asks all his skill players to know what’s required of all the other offensive positions at any given moment. Jackson reportedly fell behind on his homework, and during unofficial/official summer practice for everyone who wasn’t sconce shopping, he suddenly found himself taking reps with the second and third teams as a result.
"It was no demotion," Jackson told the NFL Network thereafter. "[Kelly] was just trying new things with everybody. Nothing is set in stone for anybody. Everybody on the team was able to go through first team, second team, third team."
It is how things go with Jackson. Big deal. Not a big deal. Look at me. Nothing to see here. Depends on the day. Depends on his mood. Depends on which DeSean Jackson he feels like being.
Last year’s on-field performance was largely forgettable. Jackson fractured his ribs and missed the final five games of the season. In the 11 games he played, Jackson totaled the fewest receptions (45), yards (700) and touchdowns (two) since his rookie season. His 15.6 yards-per-catch average was also his worst since his first year in the league.
It wasn’t long ago when Jackson mesmerized the NFL with his elusiveness, disappearing from the grasp of frustrated defenders and then reappearing, like a magician, down field or in the end zone. In 2010, at the height of his pigskin prestidigitation, Jackson averaged a career-high 22.5 yards per catch. He added six touchdowns and hauled in one pass for a career-best 91-yard reception.
That was Jackson then. Jackson now is something else, something complicated and difficult to decipher. But who will Jackson be this season? Which Jackson will Jackson dispatch to training camp and, beyond that, the regular season? He is a tough man to pin down. Whether that attribute is good or bad is up to him. Always has been.