Happy Jackson in camp

The sun was shining on receiver DeSean Jackson as he reported to Eagles camp Wednesday. Gone was the distraction of last year's contract squabble.
The sun was shining on receiver DeSean Jackson as he reported to Eagles camp Wednesday. Gone was the distraction of last year's contract squabble. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)

What a difference a year makes, now that the receiver has a new contract.

Posted: July 27, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It was minutes after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, and DeSean Jackson checked into the Eagles' dorms at Lehigh University. The mandatory team meeting did not start for nearly five more hours, yet Jackson was there. He strutted across the arid lawn, smiling and remarking how nice a day it seemed.

If there is any image that encapsulates the difference between the way the Eagles started the 2011 season and the way the Eagles started the 2012 season, it might be this: Jackson, on time and happy.

"It's a new year," Jackson said. "Really, honestly, last year was the past. I live in the future. I live moving forward. So I don't really go off the past. I like to better myself off the past. As far as last year 'til today, I couldn't really explain it. I'm just happy to be here, start fresh, start new."

Jackson's distancing himself from 2011 was by design, as it was not exactly a banner year for the dynamic wide receiver. Jackson did not show up to training camp on the required report date. He held out of camp for 11 days, yearning for a new contract. That deal never came during the impasse, and Jackson returned because prolonging the holdout would have threatened his pending free agency.

During the season, Jackson was distracted and occasionally problematic. He was deactivated for a Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals while on a de facto suspension. He was benched during a Week 12 loss to New England. Jackson finished the season with 961 yards and four receiving touchdowns, both declines from the previous two seasons. And the culprit seemed to be distractions about his contract.

"Human nature-wise, yes, it affected him," wide receivers coach David Culley said. "He tried not to let it affect him, and sometimes didn't do a very good job at doing that. It affected him in meetings, it affected him on the field, it affected him in practice. And there were days when it didn't."

Both Jackson and the Eagles found a resolution during the offseason. First, Jackson was designated as the team's franchise player. Then, he agreed to a five-year deal that could be worth as much as $51 million. The deal provided Jackson with financial security and relieved the Eagles from the aggravation of a disgruntled deep threat. And there appeared to be an overnight change in Jackson.

Culley noticed during minicamps the Jackson he used to coach, one who appeared more enthused about his status with the Eagles. Culley said the contract issues "are definitely behind [Jackson] now."

Culley expects a more consistent Jackson this season, and the reason is because "he's been that, and we didn't see it last year simply because he was distracted." Now that the distraction is gone, Jackson can play worry-free. One of those worries might be going across the middle, because Culley said there were occasions that Jackson tried to "save himself" from a big hit because he was not under contract for 2012. The issue was not fear, Culley said, but rather trying to avoid injury.

"There's very few things he can't do on the field," Culley said. "Other than him not being 6-2, there's nothing that a 6-2 guy can do that he can't do. So I expect him to be complete."

Upon arriving at camp on Wednesday, Jackson pledged to be "accountable," which seemed a veiled reference to 2011. He called 2012 a "fresh start" and spoke about training camp the way an undrafted rookie might. He mentioned that he still yearns to return punts and shared the bitterness of watching the rival Giants win the Super Bowl.

The smile seldom departed his face, and the overriding sentiment was one of renewal. He has a new season, a new contract, and a new attitude. Asked the last time his mind was this clear, Jackson didn't even want to recount the time that it wasn't. The season behind him would just distract from the season ahead of him, and neither Jackson nor the Eagles need another distraction-filled year.

"It's clear right now," Jackson said. "That's all I can really say."

Contact Zach Berman

at zberman@phillynews.com

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