Among the issues that have surfaced for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early part of this season are special teams issues, and one of those is on punt returns, where rookie Damaris Johnson hasn't consistently brought much to the table. This has led to obvious questions about whether DeSean Jackson, who as recently as 2010 was the best punt return man in the NFL, might have a chance to return to the role. Per Sheil Kapadia:
"He's always ready to go. I mean, he's like a pinch-hitter. He's ready to go. We just have to call his number," special-teams coach Bobby April said. "Most of our punt returns have not been traditionally field punts. They've been up closer to the 50-yard line where you have to worry about a lot of things and you have to spread yourself a little bit thin. It's tough to make just an all-out concentration on the punt return in that phase of the game."
Jackson scored four touchdowns on punt returns from 2008 to 2010, but in 2011, he was terrible. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles had the 27th-ranked punt return unit in the NFL. Of course, Jackson has admitted that his contract situation contributed to struggles in all aspects of his game last year. With a new deal in hand, he’s been very good as a receiver in 2012.
"You never know," April said. "You may get your wish this week. You may get it in two weeks, you never know. But he's always ready to go."
I certainly think it's possible we see Jackson return a punt or two this year, but it's worth considering that he's having a very good year so far as a wide receiver. And considering that the Eagles' offense is one of the lowest-scoring units in the league so far, it would seem unwise to do anything that might jeopardize his continued contribution there as the offense struggles to get on its feet. I think what the Eagles are getting out of Jackson so far this year is just fine, and that they have reason to believe Johnson can develop into a more reliable punt returner if given time. My sense is that patience will reign here, and that it should.