The Philadelphia Eagles' mantra is that things will be different this year, and that encompasses a lot of things. The quarterback will be better prepared. The defense will cover and tackle better. They will use real linebackers. Etc. This is what the Eagles would have us believe, based on the fact that they tried to throw a whole bunch of new people and concepts together in a too-short period of time last summer and finally got things going late in the year.
Also on that list of things expected to be different this year in Philadelphia are the mindset and performance of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who spent the bulk of the 2011 season pouting about his contract, got suspended one game for missing a team meeting and didn't bring to the table the same excitement for which he'd become know. Now, Jackson has his contract extension, and reports out of Eagles camp are that he's a different kind of guy. Per Tim McManus:
Michael Vick went out of his way on the final day of training camp to praise Jackson for his dedication, commitment and efforts to become a leader this offseason. There has been a shift in attitude, which his teammates have seem to have taken notice of.
"He's different towards me," said Jason Kelce. "I don't know if that has anything to do with the contract or whatever. I think all around he's just in a better mood.
"We know each other a lot better now so it's much more of a friendship rather than a co-worker type of relationship like it was last year."
I had a chance to speak with Jackson when I was at Eagles camp a couple of weeks ago, and I found him to be pleasant, upbeat and engaging. And yes, this stands in stark contrast to last year, when you really couldn't get him to stop and answer questions. I asked him about last year, of course, and while he didn't love rehashing, he did so willingly.
"Going through that process of not knowing when it was going to come, as an individual it kind of distracted me and got me off my task of what I needed to do," he told me. "Now, I'm just happy to be done with it and be able to focus on playing football and going out there and giving it my full ability."
So what now? There are two ways this can go. Either it can fit the narrative the Eagles are trying to push, which would mean a rejuvenated and dedicated Jackson takes a big leap forward, or it could turn the other way, in which a finally satisfied Jackson coasts now that he's got the money and respect he believes was lacking last year. Sometimes, when guys get paid, they lose their drive. We have seen it many times.
I do not know which type of guy Jackson is, but we found out last year that he's not the type of guy who's driven to perform better in the face of adversity. Lots of players, when they're looking for new contracts, play their absolute best in their current contract's final season. Jackson went the other way, sulking and struggling. What does that tell us about the way he'll handle prosperity?
I personally don't expect to see a lot of difference in Jackson. His career numbers are very steady. He's averaged 57 catches and 1,021 yards per season, and the furthest from those averages he's ever been is 10 catches and 135 yards. He only caught four touchdowns last year, but he only caught six the year before. I would expect the same kind of player he was before last year, only without the contribution he used to make as a punt returner (since they don't seem to want to use him as that anymore). I would not expect some kind of magical jump forward in production because of a new contract or a new attitude.
Could it happen? Sure. He's only 25, and at that age it's entirely possible we've yet to see his best. But from what I can gather about this situation, I'm sticking with my prediction. What you've seen so far from Jackson is what you can expect to get.