When DeSean Jackson broke into the NFL, he soon proved himself as one of the most dangerous punt returners in the leauge. Problem is, he also started to become more and more valuable on offense as a WR as well.
As he became more and more relied upon as a receiver, the Eagles used him less and less as a return man. Special teams coach Bobby April said today that he expects to have DeSean returning punts even less than he has in the past two years.
Keeping DeSean fresh for the offense is more important than using him on returns.
"We want to use (Jackson) offensively as a weapon. There's some wear and tear on a guy his size. (The risk of) injury. Just the amount of running he does.," explained April. "He doesn't do a lot of three-step hitch. He is running and stretching the field. And for [QB Michael Vick] to get coordinated with all of that, Desean's got a lot invested in keeping his legs replenished."
But of course, any time you don't send out DeSean Jackson to return a punt is one where you're not taking your best shot at something big happening, because as April points out... no one else here is as good as him.
"Someone has to step up but right now no one is as good as he is."
So the goal in this camp isn't to find someone that can take punts when DeSean can't... it's to find a new punt returner. I suspect that we may still see DeSean in certain big spots, but if someone can prove capable over this next month, they're going to handle the lion's share of the punt returns this season.
The two most likely candidates to replace DeSean just might both be rookies. Brandon Boykin was an excellent kickoff returner at Georgia, but didn't handle a lot of the punt return duties. The other is undrafted free agent out of Oregon, Cliff Harris, who was an excellent punt returner in college. In fact, April says he's reminded of Jackson when watching Harris' tape.
"He's a phenomenal punt returner," said April. "He's very much like DeSean, he really is. He reminds me of DeSean when I watched DeSean at Cal. Really, really explosive. Once they get going, they can pull away. We really want to see him in the preseason. We're going to give him a chance to make the team. And make it as a punt returner."
It should be fun to see in Lehigh and then preseason over the next month or two.