DeSean Jackson wore a white visor instead of a helmet to practice. He sat on the stationary bicycle while his Washington Redskins teammates were stretching. Instead of pedaling, he slowly worked the handlebars back and forth, keeping the muscles loose in his sprained left shoulder.
This is the long-anticipated "return to Philly" week for Jackson, his chance to show the Philadelphia Eagles they were woefully mistaken when they suddenly released him in late March with barely a word of explanation.
"Obviously it's going to be a huge game for myself," Jackson said, "and something I always looked forward to ever since everything went down the way it went down."
But fate has a way of complicating such tidy story lines. Jackson fell on his shoulder and sprained the AC joint in the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's determined to play — he said Wednesday "I don't plan on missing this game" — but he will need to be a quick healer if he's to face the Eagles this weekend.
"Playing a team that I've been traded from, released from, I kind of know how that feels," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "I know he's going to be juiced up. He's trying to get back out there on that field as quick as possible."
Jackson didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, so it's hard to get a handle on his status for Sunday. Much will depend on whether he can regain the full range of motion with his shoulder, and whether he can stand the pain if he gets hit.
"We're going to push him a little bit more tomorrow, to see where he's at," coach Jay Gruden said.
Players face former teams all the time, but Jackson's circumstance is more curious than most. He caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards last season in the first year of coach Chip Kelly's high-paced offense, but the Eagles tried to trade him and then simply released him. Asked this week why he let Jackson go, Kelly stuck to the "just going in a different direction" company line and suggested that Jackson (5-foot-10, 178 pounds) was too small.
"Yeah, just trying to build the overall team in terms of what we we're looking for offensively and how we wanted to get bigger at the wideout spot," Kelly said, "and that's what we did."
Jackson's release coincided with stories about off-the-field problems, and he released at statement at the time denying that he was a member of a gang. Kelly said this week that off-field issues had "zero" influence on the team's decision, and Jackson tried to make it sound as if he doesn't care anymore.
"They made the decision. They moved on. I moved on," Jackson said. "I'm just blessed to have a second opportunity to play here in Washington, and, you know, it's not about them anymore. It's about what we're doing over here."
Less than a week after getting cut, Jackson was snapped up by the Redskins and given a three-year, $24 million contract with $16 million guaranteed. He's kept a relatively low profile so far in Washington, with barely a whiff of trouble.
"As far as anything you do in life, being in the NFL and being in the position that I'm at in my career, regardless of what it is, you kind of have to overanalyze anything you do," Jackson said. "Being in the NFL, it's like you're under a microscope and everything you do is being looked at. Being able to come here to Washington and play for the Redskins, since Day 1, since I stepped in here with this organization, I was just myself. I didn't really change. They accepted me for who I was."
Philly fans are well-known for their hostility. Jackson, if he plays, is ready for whatever they dish out.
"I felt I put it on the line for them when I played there, and (I know) what I've done to help that organization win games," he said. "As far as if they congratulate me or boo me or whatever the case may be, I'm ready for whatever it is."
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