NFL: 49ers’ defense aims to puts clamps on Eagles’ Jackson
By Daniel Brown
San Jose Mercury News
For all DeSean Jackson’s amazing feats this season, none is more improbable than getting Andy Reid off the ground.
After Jackson scored on a 60-yard touchdown catch for the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend, Jackson raced to the sideline for a leaping chest bump with his rotund head coach.
Well, Jackson jumped.
Reid’s vertical leap measured in millimeters. It’s still getting guffaws.
“I think he can compete with LeBron James,” quarterback Donovan McNabb joked on Wednesday. “Very explosive.”
The Eagles’ celebration caught the attention of the 49ers, who will try to make sure there’s no repeat Sunday in Philadelphia. A week after shutting down high-flying receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the 49ers’ defense will try to put similar clamps on Jackson.
It’s a different type of challenge.
Fitzgerald was a sizable target known for his physical style and leaping ability; Jackson is a hummingbird-size speedster who specializes in getting behind defensive backs.
Including punt returns, the former Cal star has eight touchdowns of 50 yards or longer to tie Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch (1951) and Devin Hester (2007) for the NFL single-season record.
Already famously fast, Jackson has found an extra gear. He dedicated this season to his father, Bill, who died in May after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
“He fought until the end. He was strong,” Jackson said earlier this year. “But it was tough going into the hospital and seeing him like that.
“I’m going to be just as strong as my dad would have wanted me to be.”
Jackson averages 18.9 yards, best in the NFL. He also leads the league in yards per punt return (17.8), which would be the NFL’s best mark since Lemar Parrish averaged 18.8 yards for Cincinnati in 1974.
Jackson is also the first player in NFL history to record a touchdown of at least 60 yards in the first three games of the year.
As Reid said after last Sunday’s game: “He’s pretty stinking exciting.”
Some speculated that the 49ers might take Jackson in the 2008 draft, but they passed on him in the first round in favor of defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer and again in the second round when they took offensive lineman Chilo Rachal.
The 49ers were not alone. Jackson slipped to 49th overall, in part because of concerns about his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-10) and his attitude. Coming out of Cal, Jackson was perceived as a cocky and difficult to coach.
On a conference call with Bay Area reporters Wednesday, Reid recalled that he heard the same scouting reports. But he called Bears coach Jeff Tedford as well as others who knew Jackson well. And Reid liked what he heard.
As it turns out, Jackson is plenty cocky. But in a good way, the Eagles say. McNabb, who was also on a Bay Area conference call, said:
“You have to have a little swagger about you. Confidence is something I don’t think can be coached or learned — you have to have it.
“DeSean has done a great job of not letting his confidence and his swagger be a distraction to what we’re setting out to do over here.”
Hmm ... did the Eagles ever have a receiver whose attitude was a distraction?
“Niiiice question,” McNabb said. And he left it at that.
There was no need to mention Terrell Owens by name, not with all the good vibes in Philadelphia lately. Look no further than Reid’s leap Sunday night, when the stoic coach actually broke character.
He practically frolicked.
“Coach Reid, me and him, we joke around a little bit,” Jackson told reporters in Philadelphia. “We mess around. He’s definitely like a father as well as a coach. Our relationship is huge — two people from California. I cherish the relationship we have. I know not too many people get to mess around and joke around with him like that.”
The 49ers hope to put Reid back into a dour mood this weekend. They are coming off a terrific defensive effort against the Arizona Cardinals, in which they forced seven turnovers and registered four sacks.
Now, they will have to stop Jackson, a player who averages 51.9 yards per score on his 15 career touchdowns (including the postseason).
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, and for us, it’s a matter of our guys just doing their jobs,” coach Mike Singletary said. “Any time you’re facing a player that makes plays downfield like you’ve seen that guy, you have to prepare for it. You just have to do the best you can.”