Will Jackson turn into a Kelly guy?
YOU PROBABLY don't remember, but the last two Eagles coaches who opened their tenures at home - Andy Reid in 1999 and Ray Rhodes in 1995 - were greeted with a fairly resounding shrug. Both of their first games were blacked out in the Philadelphia television market because they were not sold out.
This can be a tough place for newcomers. It can be especially tough for newcomers who are bent on reinvention, as Chip Kelly is. The sense you get this time is of more eager anticipation than might have existed for Reid and Rhodes, but there still will be a fair amount of skepticism - arms-folded skepticism - as the Eagles take the field Monday night against Washington.
Everybody will be looking for something. Most will wonder if new defensive coordinator Bill Davis can scheme his way out of more than a few personnel issues. Many will be fixated on quarterback Michael Vick, because that is often the essence of the thing. Still others will look at left tackle Jason Peters, a year removed from a terrible Achilles' injury, and see him as the true barometer of this go-go offense.
Me? I'll be watching DeSean Jackson.
It was 3 years ago, in the self-same stadium that the Eagles will visit on Monday night, when Vick and Jackson and the team's offense had the kind of game that is impossible to forget - 59 points, just these great gulps of yardage, dynamism to some higher power. It triggered a stretch of a half-dozen games that made everyone believe - until they didn't anymore.
It was in 2010. Or, as Vick said, "So long ago."
The Vick-to-Jackson combination seemed as if it was going to be unstoppable. Then it was stopped, mostly by two deep safeties lined up as deep as any safeties you will ever see. There would be more than one concussion for Jackson along the way, and there would be his celebrated contract problem. There would be discipline from Reid, and some acknowledged pouting from Jackson, and vague talk of a disconnect between the quarterback and the receiver.
Mostly, there would be the concern that Jackson was a one-trick pony, that all he could do was run away from people, that he could not be counted on in the red zone or in tight, physical spaces. The one trick is a hell of a trick, but there it was. And while Jackson had a good year in 2012, it was not an explosive year. He caught the ball consistently after an inconsistent 2011, but he also was banged up - and when the offensive line crumbled with injuries, and Vick and/or Nick Foles did not have the opportunity to hold the ball forever and wait for Jackson to run away from somebody, his contributions seemed muted. His overall numbers were fine, given that he played in only 11 games, but he had only two touchdown catches.
Here is the thing, though. Jackson has this great desire to be special, and he has this great run-away-from-you speed. The question becomes, can Kelly - with this new offense - find a way to scheme Jackson into the kinds of mismatches that rob a stadium of its collective breath?
"In the past, teams have done a great job of seeing what I've done early in my career with making the big plays and electrifying plays and things like that, but now with this offense coming in, it's really going to be a plus in my eyes," Jackson said to reporters the other day. "A lot of teams don't really know what to expect. Regardless of what we did in the preseason, I still think there are a lot of plays that have been hidden and that we haven't been running. versatility with the offense keep the defense offguard."
Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are great schemers. They did what they could, moving Jackson around the formation, putting him within bunches of receivers and trying to find a way to shake him free, and there was some pretty consistent success. It just wasn't the oh-wow kind of success that everyone had hoped to see - and the red zone was pretty much fallow.
What can Kelly do differently? It is one of the questions to which we have no answer. Preseason is for camouflage as much as it is for practice - and Kelly did not reveal a lot when it came to Jackson. It is why Monday will be so interesting.
"I think what we have to do is look at what his production will be like as we move forward, and from when we first got here and started implementing our plan and our process, he's done an outstanding job as far as learning what to do," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "He's really bought into all the sports science and getting himself ready to go physically and mentally and we anticipate he's going to have a good year, and typically that means touching the ball."
Vick talked about the usual stuff, about moving Jackson around the formation, here, then here, then here, so that you "kind of psyche the defense out."
But that is the real question: Can DeSean Jackson still psyche out a defense? The answer will tell us a lot about Chip Kelly.
On Twitter: @theidlerich