Imagine this: You’re a young 20-something defensive back with maybe one chance to make it in the NFL, or at least one chance to make it with the Eagles. And that chance is now. You’ve prepared your whole life for this moment. You’re ready.
Then this happens.
“I lined myself up and got situated,” said Eagles rookie cornerback Jay Liggins, from NAIA school Dickinson State. “And I looked up and I saw 10. ‘Oh s—, that’s DeSean Jackson.’”
In the flesh.
“It was pretty crazy,” Liggins said.
Liggins, 23, said he’s really gone up against Jackson just once and the ball didn’t come their way. Still, he thinks he held his own.
Liggins’ experience isn’t all that different than some of other defensive backs on the Eagles’ roster. Since Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are both still on the shelf, a bunch of younger players this spring are getting a chance to cover the three-time Pro Bowler, who has led the NFL in yards per catch four times during his 11-year career.
If that doesn’t force you to grow up in a hurry, nothing will.
It’s not like Josh Hawkins, 26, hasn’t seen great talent before. In fact, when he was with the Packers, he actually covered Jackson some in a game on Dec. 3, 2017. In that game DeSean had just two catches for 24 yards. But now, Hawkins is getting an even better sense of just how good Jackson is, even during practice.
The one thing everyone always says about Jackson is that he has great straight-line speed and that’s very true. But the first thing Hawkins mentioned is Jackson’s shiftiness.
“He’s all over the field,” Hawkins said.
In recent practices, Jackson has shown the ability to go deep but has also shown his ability to attack the seams and the middle of the field. He really isn’t a one-trick pony.
Godwin Igwebuike, 24, was a teammate of Jackson’s briefly in Tampa Bay, so he saw him some during practice in Florida. He’s seeing more of him this spring. As a safety, Igwebuike isn’t lining up to cover DeSean 1-on-1, but he is trying to help his cornerbacks as much as possible. He better know where No. 10 is at all times.
“As a post safety, the first thing you’re doing is ID’ing, so usually I get out there and you see a couple guys … when you see DeSean out there, you know, you might need to show a little more effort on that side,” Igwebuike said.
“You might need to show a little more over the top. Even so Carson (Wentz) knows, ‘OK, maybe I shouldn’t … I see the safety cheating over there, maybe I shouldn’t take that gamble.’ But DeSean’s going to do what he does regardless. You kind of just stay at the top and help that corner out and hope for the best.”
Igwebuike said through laughter that his key to facing Jackson is to get his depth early. Yeah, that’s good advice.
Jackson says he’s matured since his first stint in Philadelphia and he’s off to a good start this time around. These practices aren’t mandatory, but Jackson has been around all spring and Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Jackson has “been a joy to be around.”
Remember, he’s still lightning quick, but Jackson is 32 now.
“DeSean Jackson’s 32?” Hawkins shot back in disbelief. “I did not know that.”
Even in his 30s, Jackson still has it, to the disbelief of his much younger teammates charged with trying to shut him down during practice.
“It’s hard to really imagine (he’s 32),” Igwebuike said. “I’ve heard his name since I was a youngin. To still be playing with him now, see that he’s still moving the way he does, I mean, I don’t want to imagine what he was like when he was younger.
“He still says he’s the fastest out here. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is.”
Now, you’ve got to cover him. Good luck.
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