DeSean Jackson talks possible Eagles reunion, says Wentz 'killed it' as rookie

DeSean Jackson talks possible Eagles reunion, says Wentz 'killed it' as rookie

The connection hasn't been hard to make. And it's been made plenty of times over the last couple months. 

DeSean Jackson will become a free agent on March 9 and the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver, specifically someone who can stretch the field — just like their former second-round pick. 

So a reunion just makes too much sense. And it was a topic of conversation when Jackson joined Adam Schefter's ESPN podcast recently. 

"It definitely is a great story, I guess you could say," Jackson said. "Starting your career somewhere and obviously going to a division rival team and having the possibility of maybe going back. I mean you kind of just think about all of that, where you started from and maybe where you want to finish it. It’s just a lot of speculation of a lot of thoughts. It almost sounds good but you never really know until the final decision is made. 

"But I’m just a firm believer of you work hard, you put in the work, and continuously go out there and show everybody what you’re capable of doing. I think the sky is the limit for me. My agent, Joel Segal, he's in a great position. I’m in a great position. Really, I’m just going to let him be the expertise guy. He’s the one with all the experience. He’s been doing this for plenty of years. With the conversations we’ve been having, it’s great on our end. The best thing we need to do is stay under the radar, me continuously working out, and from there we’ll just sit back and see what teams are putting out there."

Jackson, 30, is probably in line for a big payday. And really, there's a pretty good chance he'll just end up going to whichever team offers him the biggest and best contract. But aside from money, Jackson, who is entering his 10th year in the NFL, said he wants to play for a team that gives him a chance to win. A big part of that is playing with a great quarterback. 

While he said Kirk Cousins is a great quarterback, having another one to catch passes from is important to Jackson. 

"I want to win," Jackson said. "Obviously, I haven't won a Super Bowl, so the team that can win, a team that has a great quarterback. And that's definitely what stands out to me."

Carson Wentz might not be a great quarterback yet, but he did have some impressive moments during his rookie season in 2016. And Jackson was watching. While Jackson first praised all the quarterbacks in the NFL, he then answered a specific question about Wentz. 

"Carson Wentz, he came in and had a heck of a year as a rookie," Jackson said. "I mean, I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming. You know, they had Sam Bradford who was there, who ended up getting traded to Minnesota, so he didn’t have no choice but to step up and be that guy. But that was a gutsy call for the organization to really believe in a young guy like that, just came out of college and give him that shot. I think he killed it. He was lights out, had heck of a year. He definitely showed me he can do it and he has all the intangibles of being a big-time quarterback in this league."

If Jackson does return to Philly, the question would be: Can Wentz reach his full potential while Jackson is still a dynamic player? 

Jackson, who turned 30 in December, said he still wants to play four, five or even six more years in the league. He thinks he can be a dynamic outside deep threat for three or four of those. 

Has he seen any drop-off in his speed? 

"Not at all," Jackson said. "I really feel like I could still (run in the) low 4.3s or 4.29 (in the 40-yard dash) like I did when I came out the combine." 

If Jackson's speed ever does diminish, he said he could play in the slot. He pointed to the end of Santana Moss' career as an example. While Jackson's planning ahead in case his speed vanishes, he is hoping it never does. 

If the reunion happens, the Eagles will be right there with him. 

Eagles' 14th pick Derek Barnett aims on improving in one key area

Eagles' 14th pick Derek Barnett aims on improving in one key area

Derek Barnett has the unique distinction of being the only player this year who was drafted in the same city where he'll play next season.

In fact, the commissioner called his name just five miles from the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. He could have walked to his new football home.

So Friday was pretty fun.

The Eagles' first-round pick was driven to Lincoln Financial Field, where he got a tour of the stadium and was then brought across the street to the NovaCare Complex, where he got to meet some more of his new coaches.

"The day's been fun for me," said Barnett, clad in a gray shadowbox suit with an Eagles lapel pin. "I've enjoyed myself. I can't wait until we start rookie camp and get around ball some more."

He can't wait to trade in that suit for his new No. 96 jersey. Rookie camp starts on May 12. 

But the work will start as soon as leaves the building Friday. 

"I'm going to have my iPad, so I'll be able to start learning the defense," Barnett said. 

On Thursday night, shortly after making the pick, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas stood at the same podium in the Eagles' auditorium and praised Barnett for his tenacity, character, work ethic and technique. 

The next day, the humble 20-year-old talked about wanting to come in and learn from the team's veteran players and didn't hesitate when asked which area he wants to improve the most. 

"My eye discipline," he said. "Sometimes I like to put my eyes in the backfield too fast before defeating my block. So I think I need to continue to work on my eye discipline."

How will he do that?  

"Focusing on my work, making sure I'm beating my block," he answered. "If I'm going against the tight end, making sure I'm beating him first before I put my eyes in the backfield."

Barnett might not be the best athletic specimen as a prospect, but he makes up for it with his relentlessness and focus on technique, a lot of which was taught to him by coach Steve Stripling at Tennessee (see story)

But Barnett teaches himself plenty, too. He watches other great pass rushers, including Michael Bennett and previously Michael Strahan. He even went back and watched tape of Reggie White, whose sack record he broke in college. He wanted to learn White's "hump" move but decided it wasn't for him.

Barnett, while dealing with the flu, weighed in at the combine at 259 pounds, but said he'll put on as much weight as the Eagles' coaching staff wants him to. He thinks it won't affect his speed. 

The Eagles' newest defensive end is humble but eager. He can't wait to get around his new teammates as he transitions into the NFL. 

"I'm not going to sit back and wait my turn, but I'm going to come in and learn my role first," he said, "and get around these vets and learn what I have to do first to get on the field. Me being a first-round pick doesn't mean anything, it doesn't guarantee me a spot. I still have to come in and work and gain respect first."

The work starts now. 

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

For family days at the University of Tennessee, former defensive line coach Steve Stripling's wife Gayle would make cookies for the crowd. And every time she did, it didn't go unnoticed by the Vols' best player. 

Every time, without fail, Derek Barnett would make a point to seek her out and say, "Hey Mrs. Strip, thank you for the cookies." 

It's a small thing, thanking someone for cookies. But it's something that seems to exemplify the type of players the Eagles are focused on bringing into the organization, especially with new VP of player personnel Joe Douglas leading the draft charge. And it was the one of the stories that stuck out most to Steve Stripling on Friday morning, 12 hours after the pick was made. 

"He's got that in him," Stripling said to CSNPhilly.com on Friday morning, just before boarding a flight from Philadelphia back to Tennessee, "and then on the football field, I've seen him just be a monster. 

"He has that ability to be quiet, unassuming, polite, respectful, all that, and then on the football field, he's a warrior. When he walks on the football field, he's different, totally different." 

Barnett, 20, is a pretty quiet and reserved guy. Some fans thought he didn't look pleased to be picked by the Eagles with the 14th pick on Thursday night, but that's not true. That's just his demeanor — off the field. 

On the field, Barnett is a relentless technician with an exceptional motor that powered him to 33 sacks at Tennessee, breaking Reggie White's long-standing record. 

"If you get to know him, he doesn't say much," Stripling said. "He's very quiet, but on the football field, when he says something, everyone pays attention. He just has that built into him, to play hard and he's a grinder and focused and all those things."

Stripling joined the Volunteers' coaching staff as an associate head coach and defensive line coach for the 2013 season. That was the year spent recruiting Barnett out of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Barnett's 2016 season, Stripling, 63, took a job as the director of football program development, but he was Barnett's position coach for all three years of his college stay. 

And from the time Barnett arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2014, it didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize something was special about him. 

Stripling recalls a play that the coaching staff has shown "a thousand times" since it happened back in 2014. During the first or second day of Volunteers' two-a-day camp, Barnett, then a freshman, showed that relentless style for which he's now become known. Barnett lined up as the team's right end as the ball broke to the left and the carrier jetted down field. From out of nowhere, Barnett chased him 40 yards downfield and delivered a sideline hit. 

Before that play, Tennessee knew Barnett was good. After that play, it knew he was special. 

"Usually when a freshman gets to camp, they're just trying to fit in, learn their way," Stripling said. "But it was from Day 1." 

The Tennessee defensive line room tried to live by an acronym: EAT — effort, accountability and technique. Barnett represented all of those facets. 

But perhaps more than anything, the technique part of his game is what really stands out. The use of his hands and his ability to bend as a pass rusher are the traits that vaulted him into the top half of the first round. 

And Barnett credits "Coach Strip" for a lot of it. 

"I’ll you what, he was hard on me," Barnett wrote about Stripling in the Players' Tribune. "From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player."

In addition to working with Tennessee coaches, Barnett has also spent time in the offseason working with former NFL defensive lineman and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. 

Barnett (6-3, 259 pounds) didn't perform well at the 2017 combine in Indianapolis. Even though he was dealing with the flu, he wanted to show more. But on Thursday night, that lackluster performance didn't seem to bother Douglas, who raved about his technique and even dropped some scouty lingo with the phrase "ankle flexion." 

Stripling, meanwhile, compared Barnett's bend as a pass rusher to former Colts great Dwight Freeney. 

"I think that's athletic ability to me, even though it's not a 40-yard time," Stripling said. "It's the ability to get low, reduce the surface and turn the corner. And I think that's one of his strong suites."

And then there's something Barnett has that simply can't be coached: instincts. Barnett, according to Stripling, has the unique ability to leave his gap responsibility at exactly the right time, when necessary to make a play: 

"I would say, 'Derek, how did you know the ball was going there?' He'd say, 'I just knew it.'"

For Stripling, Thursday night at the Ben Franklin Parkway was quite a thrill. A college coach since 1977, this was the first NFL draft he had ever attended. Hours after the Eagles used their 14th pick to take Barnett and hours after the hoopla surrounding the event had faded, Stripling sat up late with Barnett, his mother Christine and the rest of the family, reminiscing and reflecting. 

A little earlier in the night, when Barnett's name was called, Stripling happened to be seated near a group of inquisitive Eagles fans. 

"They were saying, 'who is this guy?'" Stripling recalled. "And I said, 'you're going to love this guy. He's going to work hard, he's going to be tough, he's going to make plays, you're going to love him.' I'm excited for him, it's going to be a good fit."