Jackson back by the Bay with lesson for 49ers

October 11, 2008 8:30:51 PM PDT
If the San Francisco 49ers had just been paying attention, those cheers emanating from across the Bay in Berkeley would have told them who to draft last spring. DeSean Jackson was a sensation in his three years at California, returning punts and catching touchdown passes with unmatched flair. Though "Tha Chosen 1" faltered badly - along with his Golden Bears teammates - late last season, he confidently entered the NFL draft one year early, starting workouts with Jerry Rice and signing with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo's sports management company.

Meanwhile, the 49ers badly needed an exciting offensive playmaker who could also return kicks. Everything seemed to be in place for Jackson to trade his blue-and-gold jersey for the Niners' garnet and gold, particularly after questions about his size dropped him into the second round.

"I took a trip there before I got drafted, and I met with coach (Mike) Martz and with the head coach," Jackson said. "It was definitely a good place to be. I spent my college career there, so it would have been a cool place to play professional football."

Instead, Jackson will line up at Candlestick Park on Sunday as the Philadelphia Eagles' most exciting young player. Chilo Rachal, the unheralded USC offensive lineman that the 49ers curiously reached to select over Jackson with the 39th pick, is unlikely to get on the field at all.

Jackson, who fell all the way to Philadelphia with the 49th pick, is busy proving the foolishness of every team that passed on him. He leads the Eagles and all NFL rookies with 335 yards receiving, and his 68-yard punt return for a touchdown against Washington last week bolstered his return average to 13.2 yards.

When asked to explain why in the world San Francisco would choose Rachal instead of Jackson, coach Mike Nolan inexplicably claimed the club thought Rachal "would help us more quickly," even though Rachal was an early entry candidate at a position that often requires years of seasoning - and a player widely expected to fall into the third round or lower.

Rachal has yet to touch the field after five games, while the 49ers had to sign veteran kick-return specialist Allen Rossum to fill a troublesome spot for last season's team. Although Josh Morgan looked good in training camp, the 49ers don't have a young receiver with Jackson's potential or pedigree.

Perhaps the 49ers were spooked by the whispered concerns about Jackson's work ethic and occasional me-first attitude - no surprise from a player whose big brother, former NFL receiver Byron Jackson, has been videotaping DeSean's every move for 15 years in hopes of making a movie about his life.

Eagles coach Andy Reid didn't share those concerns after speaking with the people who knew Jackson best - and who live just 50 miles from the 49ers' training complex.

"Coach (Jeff) Tedford is a heck of a coach," Reid said. "He was very upfront with me on things that he did with DeSean, and I have a lot of respect for him. ... He just said there were a couple of things he would do different, and so I took that into consideration, and then I didn't feel it was a problem. And you know what? He's been tremendous here, just fit right in."

Jackson said San Francisco's snub is nothing personal. He's intent on showing every NFL club, not just the Niners, what they missed.

"Every team that passed up on me, definitely when I play them I just handle my business," Jackson said. "It's a special place in Philly. Things have been going well. We just have to get back on the winning track."

Both the Eagles and the 49ers enter Sunday's game at 2-3, with their seasons in danger of slipping away following back-to-back losses. Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb has been sharply critical of his team's poor performances against Chicago and Washington, while Nolan already is enduring early whispers about his job security after the 49ers were thoroughly ineffective in losses to New Orleans and New England.

Jackson's play is less likely to determine the game's outcome than the meeting at San Francisco's line of scrimmage. The Eagles thrive on quarterback pressure and clever blitzes under coordinator Jim Johnson, and they registered nine sacks in a win over Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh last month.

That's bad news for 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, who has been sacked 20 times in just five games. Martz's offenses have yielded huge sack totals in the past two seasons in Detroit, and while O'Sullivan hasn't yet been injured by all that contact, he has completed less than half of his passes and thrown five interceptions in the last two games.

Just like Jackson, O'Sullivan doesn't lack for confidence.

"I think I do a pretty good job of understanding what the reads are, checking the ball down, things like that," O'Sullivan said. "It's just a matter of protecting the ball, being conscious of the fact that obviously turnovers are bad, but I'm not going to become trigger-shy and start to question my judgment. If I see something, I'm going to throw it to the open guy."


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