DeSean Jackson is one of the best punt returners in the NFL, if not the absolute best. But the wide receiver is also the Eagles top offensive weapon, which causes a conundrum. Throughout training camp, the Birds flirted with the idea of having several other players return punts to avoid the risk of injury.
Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, J.J. Arrington, Jorrick Calvin and Chad Hall all auditioned for the role. Special teams coordinator Bobby April mentioned during training camp that it’s a tough decision for a head coach to make, given the value Jackson brings to the offense. “There’s other considerations and that’s a tough decision for him, real tough decision for him, because those guys are valuable,” April said.
As of this morning, April wouldn’t announce any decision, but DeSean Jackson killed the suspense when asked after practice if he’d be returning punts Sunday. “Yeah,” Jackson said.
The star receiver explained that at the end of the day, the Eagles coaching staff couldn’t find anyone else who was the right fit for the role. “They tried a little bit, I guess, to give some other people opportunities to go out there and do it. I guess, you know, it didn’t work out too well and they still want me to do it,” Jackson said. “That’s something I’ve always loved to do since I was younger.”
The only drawback in the opinion of the third-year wide receiver is that it can wear him down during a game. “Sometimes it gets a little tiring to go straight from a punt return straight to offense,” said Jackson. “Besides that, I don’t really worry about the injury part of it because playing football is a risk every time you go out on the field.”
Just because Jackson opens the season as the top guy though, doesn’t mean that he’ll hold the spot all year. If the Birds choose to lighten the load on the 5’10″ speedster, cornerback Jorrick Calvin could be an option. “Everything that we’ve seen so far you can [trust Calvin], because he’s caught the ball well. He caught it well at practice, he caught it well in the pregame warm-up and he caught it well in a game,” said April.
Calvin, currently sixth on the depth chart at cornerback, enjoys the return game – particularly punt returns. “I love returning,” said Calvin. “I’m excited to get a chance to do it.” Calvin wasn’t getting that opportunity in Arizona during training camp.
The 5’11″, 184 pound defensive back likes punt returns more than kick returns because there is less structure. He says he can show his personality more and try to make moves in space. Hearing Calvin describe what he enjoys doing on punt returns sounds an awful lot like what you see Jackson do.
It makes you wonder if he’ll become the heir apparent whenever the Eagles decide the rewards no longer outweigh the risks of having their top wide receiver on special teams. Until then, DeSean Jackson will continue to be a weapon as a receiver and a returner.