How DeSean Jackson learned to take care of his body, harness his speed

How DeSean Jackson learned to take care of his body, harness his speed

Cheetahs don’t need to stretch. 

That was something DeSean Jackson used to say. When he remembered and delivered that line on Thursday morning at his introductory press conference, it received plenty of laughs. But that’s the way he used to look at it.

Key words: used to. 

“I could just wake up out my bed and go run,” Jackson said. 

Thursday was not the first time Jackson’s longtime trainer, Gary Cablayan, heard about cheetahs. 

“When you get older, I told him, you just have to be smarter with training,” Cablayan said to NBC Sports Philadelphia over the phone Thursday afternoon. “It’s just a balance of knowing his body and that’s why he’s been good for so long, because he stayed with the same group. We know his body inside and out. We know how much he can handle, how much he can’t.” 

But back when he was in his early 20s, Jackson considered himself a cheetah. He was a naturally-gifted, world-class athlete with world-class speed. He didn’t need to take care of his body. 

These days, he’s still lightning-fast, but Jackson is 32 as he enters his second stint with the Eagles. You gotta stretch to stretch the field. He’s learned that. Cablayan and others have helped. 

Cablayan, who has known Jackson from the age of 8 and has trained him for decades, has watched DeSean learn about how to take care of his body over the years. The track/speed coach based in California, who has trained Olympic athletes, is a part of a group of people that has been helping Jackson hone his craft and his speed since Pop Warner. On Thursday, Jackson credited that group, calling Cablayan one of the best track coaches in the world. 

The realization 

The moment that really led to Jackson’s newfound understanding of preserving his body, Cablayan thinks, was when Jackson strained his hamstring in the 2015 season opener as a member of the Redskins. Jackson missed the next six games, including a home game against the Eagles. 

Cablayan flew out to help work on his hamstring and get him back on the field, but Jackson didn’t play again until Nov. 8, after the Redskins’ bye week. 

“God has a way of slapping you back to reality,” Cablayan said. “He just realized, ‘Man, that could have been the end of my career.’”

Now, Jackson does the little things. If he needs some extra time in the hot tub, he stays in the hot tub a little longer. If he needs to get to work early one day, he gets to work early that day. If he needs to stretch, he stretches. He parties less. It’s all a part of his overall maturation process. Jackson isn’t coming back to Philadelphia as the same guy who left five years ago. 

What Jackson has been doing recently has been working. Even on the wrong side of 30, he still has his speed. He led the NFL in yards per catch (18.9) in 2018. It was the fourth time in his career he’s done it. And it happened eight years after his first. 

(Photo courtesy of Gary Cablayan)

The swagger

Jackson had to learn how to take care of his body. He didn’t have to learn how to be confident. The man who showed up to his press conference in shades and dripping in ice has always had that bravado. 

One story in particular stuck out to Cablayan. DeSean was about 15 or 16 when Cablayan’s father, Jerry Cablayan, was training a Puerto Rican sprinter named Jorge Richardson. Richardson actually competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Cablayan thinks Jackson had never really used starting blocks before, but that didn’t stop him from challenging a world-class sprinter. 

It was just a little 10-yard race to judge reaction time out of the blocks. 

“The funny thing was,” Cablayan said, “he actually did beat him.”

There’s no question that Jackson still has that same swagger — probably more — today. 

(Photo courtesy of Gary Cablayan)

Can he keep it up? 

This is the big question. Jackson is still fast, but how long will that speed last? 

And how long does he want to keep playing? 

“I don’t know, man,” Jackson said. “I wish I could tell you. Going on my 12th year and I’m 32, but I still feel like I’m running and playing like a 26-year-old. As long as I’m able to stay healthy, and not take any serious hits or serious injuries, I’m going to be here. I want to end my career here. I’m happy I was able to come back here and finish off where I started.”

The good news is that Jackson is still fast and he still works with the folks he’s worked with his whole life, including Cablayan, who is the CEO/director of performance at Evo Sports Training in Southern California. Guys like Cablayan and Darrick Davis have been around Jackson his entire life and have helped get the most out of him. Jackson heads back to California each offseason to train with them. 

This version of DeSean Jackson is committed to taking care of his body. He wants to extend his career. 

Even if that means making a cheetah stretch. 

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More on the Eagles

Without desperate needs, look for Eagles to play long game in this NFL draft

Without desperate needs, look for Eagles to play long game in this NFL draft

If the Eagles draft a lineman early in the 2019 draft and then everything goes perfectly with the guys who are already on the roster, that rookie might not play much or at all in his first NFL season.

The Eagles would be OK with that. 

And that goes for any position where the Eagles don’t have immediate, desperate needs. By design, there are many.  

See, the Birds tried their best to fill the holes in their roster during free agency. Now, they enter the draft Thursday feeling pretty free. They’re not beholden to any particularly dire draft needs, which should help them avoid an unnecessary reach when they’re on the clock at 25. It’s a sound plan to avoid a dangerous temptation. 

“That’s one of the things that’s exciting with where we are right now,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said last week. “We could go play right now and we think we’re a pretty good team.”

Roseman insists the Eagles are completely focused on the long-term welfare of the franchise. Part of the luxury of having a de facto GM and a head coach with long leashes is that there’s less pressure to find players who will produce and start immediately. Roseman and Doug Pederson can afford to think about the long term without worrying about saving their hides in 2019. Many teams have a much different dynamic. 

Last week, I asked Roseman how the Eagles balance long-term goals with wanting to see their high draft picks contribute immediately: 

Certainly, when you draft someone high, when it’s in the first round, second round, you love to see him play. That’s part of the great process that we have, that you get to see them play on the field in the National Football League after you spend all this time evaluating and scouting them, taking them off the board and bringing them to Philly. But that’s really about what’s best for the team. 

We had a situation where in 2002, we drafted Lito (Sheppard) and Sheldon (Brown) and they didn’t play at all (as rookies). And in 2004, they were huge contributors to our football team. We can’t view the draft as just what’s best for just this moment. We have to view this draft as what’s best for our team going forward.

We’ve heard the Lito/Sheldon example before and, even though that was 17 years ago and Roseman was still a low-level front office employee back then, it’s a good example. Neither player (Sheppard was a first-rounder, Brown was a second-rounder) started a single game as rookies because they were stuck behind Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. But both were starters for the Super Bowl team just two years later. 

Still, teams would typically like to get a certain level of production out of their first pick in the draft. Here’s a look at the Eagles’ first picks of the last several drafts and how much they’ve played as rookies: 

2018: Dallas Goedert (No. 49): 16 games, 8 starts, 48% of offensive snaps

2017: Derek Barnett (No. 14): 15 games, 0 starts, 41% of defensive snaps

2016: Carson Wentz (No. 2): 16 games, 16 starts, 99% of offensive snaps

2015: Nelson Agholor (No. 20): 13 games, 12 starts, 58% of offensive snaps

2014: Marcus Smith (No. 26): 8 games, 0 starts, 6% of defensive snaps 

2013: Lane Johnson (No. 4) 16 games, 16 starts, 100% of offensive snaps 

2012: Fletcher Cox (No. 12) 15 games, 9 starts, 48.6% of defensive snaps 

Just three of the Eagles’ last seven first picks have played more than 50 percent of snaps on their respective side of the ball and two of them were top-five picks. Just look at the last two years. The Eagles took Barnett in 2017 despite having Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long on the roster. They took Goedert last year despite having Zach Ertz. 

So how much will the Eagles’ first pick play in 2019? That’s a hard question to answer. It’s really dependent on the position of the player and the health of the veterans in front of them. Assuming good health, a defensive lineman would be a rotational player, an offensive lineman might be a backup, a receiver would be rotational, a safety would see the field in big nickel, a running back would be in a rotation and a linebacker might start. 

But the beauty of the Eagles’ situation right now is that they don’t have to care about any of that. They can afford to take the best player on the board and play the long game. 

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More on the Eagles

Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Chris Lindstrom

Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Chris Lindstrom

In four years at BC, Chris Lindstrom played in 50 games and became a starter as a freshman back in 2015. That’s a ton of college experience. 

Most of his time in college was spent at right guard, but Lindstrom did play some tackle briefly. He clearly projects as a guard or possibly center at the next level, but a damn good one. And he comes from a family of good offensive linemen, specifically his father, who was a Hall of Famer at Boston University. 

There’s a thought that guard might not be as valuable a position as tackle, but with the increasing threat of interior pass-rushers, that’s not exactly a fair assessment. And Lindstrom was a first-team All-ACC player as a senior in 2018. 

Lindstrom is a good athlete with quickness, with a football pedigree and plenty of starting college experience. Plug-and-play. There’s not much to dislike about him. 

Current roster at iOL: The Eagles didn’t pick up the option on Stefen Wisniewski’s contract, so he’s a free agent. Isaac Seumalo is the starter at left guard, Jason Kelce is the starter at center and Brandon Brooks is the starter at right guard, although, he is coming off an Achilles tear. Their top (and only) interior backup is Matt Pryor, who was a sixth-rounder last season. 

How he would fit: Lindstrom has the ability to come in and start, which is big if Brooks isn’t ready. But he might also challenge Seumalo for that starting left guard spot. Then Seumalo could be a utility backup and a good one at that.  

Eagles history at iOL in draft: The last time the Eagles drafted a guard in the first round, they took an old Canadian fireman in 2011. But that can’t prevent the Eagles from going guard again. They did use a Day 2 pick on Seumalo just a couple years ago, so they still value interior linemen. 

Other options at 25