John Smallwood: Implications of decision for Eagles' DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson at practice Monday.
DeSean Jackson at practice Monday.
Posted: November 04, 2010

DESEAN JACKSON needs to walk on the side of caution.

This is a time when he needs to put his football instincts aside.

He can't base the decision he must make in the next day or 2 entirely on a desire to return to the playing field Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

This isn't merely a game-time decision.

It is potentially a career and a quality-of-life decision.

His evaluation needs to be treated with that level of respect and seriousness.

Jackson cleared his concussion testing after visiting with an independent specialist - Dr. William Welch.

He practiced yesterday, and Eagles coach Andy Reid said the team would take things "day by day and see how [Jackson] does."

At this point, considering the coal-raking they took in Week 1 for putting both quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley back in the game after they were clearly concussed, the worst thing the Eagles could do is push the envelope with Jackson.

Obviously, most athletes' first instinct is to get back as soon as possible.

"It feels good," Jackson said of returning to practice. "Being away from games and practice and things, it's been hard to sit around and just watch.

"It felt good to get back out there. I don't know yet [about playing Sunday]. We'll see how the rest of the week goes.

"We still have a couple of days to really see how I'm doing."

That's the reasonable response - the one without the play-through-injury mantra that is indoctrinated in football players starting in Pop Warner.

But we're not talking about a strained calf, a bruised knee or many of the typical hurts that come with playing a high-collision sport.

Concussions have changed everything. The old rules no longer apply when you're talking about this injury.

With concussions, you forget the bravado and machismo inherent to the game of football.

With concussions, you don't worry about a sense of obligation to coaches, fans or even teammates.

The more we learn about the potentially devastating and long-term effects of concussions, the more we understand that the quickest return cannot be the primary motivation.

Because Jackson is the one who must live with the possible consequences of what might happen next, he gets the first, second and final say about when he plays again.

"Anytime you get a concussion, it's obviously not good," Jackson said. "It's unfortunate, but I'll be right back to where I need to be and going out there and doing the things I do."

This is about the proper amount of time.

It is about determining when Jackson is able to return to playing while minimizing the danger of him incurring another concussion.

This is such an unsteady line, especially in extremely physical sports such as football and hockey.

Changing the accepted standard that playing with injury is a part of those games would fundamentally make the sport unrecognizable.

The type of collisions that cause concussions are a part of football. Every player knows and accepts that.

"When you think football, you get tackled, you get hit," Jackson said. "It's just a physical game.

"As a football player, you can't worry about how hard you are going to get hit or what could happen on the field. You just have to go out there and hopefully you don't get too injured or whatever the case may be."

But Jackson needs to take a few things into consideration.

The cynical truth is that concern over a player's health is generally linked to how much value he has to the team.

The star receiver will get a lot more leeway than the gunner on the special-teams unit. Jackson holds a lot of cards, because he is one of the NFL's top playmakers. He is considered vital to the Eagles' success.

Their motivation is entirely self-serving, but the last thing the Eagles want is for Jackson to come back too early and get another concussion that will keep him out even longer.

This is not a Kolb situation.

There is no Michael Vick talented enough to take his job because he shined brightly as a replacement.

Jackson will not be demoted or phased out if he needs another week or 2 to make sure he is completely healthy.

Jackson is in the rare position of being a player who can make an informed decision about his health - one that takes into consideration all of the pluses and minuses, all of the short-term and long-term consequences.

As much as the Eagles want to see him back on the field as quickly as possible, they actually are just as concerned that his return isn't rushed.

"That's one of the first things you hear," Jackson said, regarding the idea that a return too early could lead to another concussion. "I'm not just going to run back out there if I'm not healthy enough to be the same receiver.

"That's what we're trying to figure out, also. Obviously, I've thought about my future. I would like to never get a concussion again."

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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