DeSean Jackson had no reason to think he would be at Redskins Park this spring, learning about new teammates and coaches, adapting to a new home.
But there he was inside the practice bubble on a rainy Thursday in Ashburn, his previous life as a star wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles nothing but a memory. At age 27, in the prime of his career, Jackson was cut on March 28 for reasons that remain murky: an inflated salary at a position of depth, alleged ties to gang members, a suspect work ethic.
"Sometimes I think about it being a little weird, but you just have to move on," Jackson said. "Can't really live in the past. Now, this is where my future is so I'm just excited and just can't wait until the season starts."
So far, Jackson's new teammates and coaches have made it a point to accept him unconditionally. They've all heard and read the stories about his sudden end in Philadelphia, and a team's willingness to move on from such a singular talent is a concern. But, for now, Redskins players are willing to suspend judgment.
"There's always two sides to the story, and to tell you the truth, I don't want to hear about the story," veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said. "I don't want to hear about what went on. He's here now, and as long as he act right and do what he has to do here, I'm pretty sure that's what he's going to do and that's what we're going to worry about."
And so the focus moves to the field, where Jackson at OTAs showed off the speed that makes him such a dynamic threat in the passing game — one Washington desperately needed with Pierre Garcon lacking anyone to take the pressure off him.
"We've been throwing a lot. [Jackson has] been here for the majority of the offseason program," quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "There was a big splash about him not being here at the beginning, but he's been here since then. He's a guy that's so talented, and like I said before, he's got a wide catch radius. He can pretty much jell anywhere he goes."
Jackson did miss the first batch of voluntary workouts in April shortly after he signed with Washington. Because Gruden is a new head coach, the Redskins could conduct them two weeks before other NFL teams. But Jackson had a previously scheduled vacation when he was working under the assumption he'd be playing for the Eagles. Since mid-April, however, he has been a steady presence at Redskins Park.
"This is not about one individual, and a lot of people want to make this about Robert and want to make it about DeSean," Gruden said. "We have to make it about the Washington Redskins, and [Jackson is] going to fit in here just fine. The players have embraced him. The coaches have embraced him, and as long as he comes to practice with the right head on his shoulders, willing to work — like he has thus far — there will never be an issue."
Jackson did sustain a sore left hamstring during the OTA practice open to the media on Thursday. A team trainer worked on the muscle, though both Jackson and Gruden said the receiver isn't concerned this will be a lingering injury.
Last season with the Eagles, Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Those were career highs in all three categories. Garcon, meanwhile, led Washington with 113 receptions last year. Tight end Jordan Reed was second with 45 in just nine games. But he suffered through multiple injuries and Moss was third on the team with just 42 catches. The Redskins needed more balance. Now they have it.
"[Jackson] can go out there and line up and he can just make a play with the snap of a finger. It's great to have that kind of guy out there," Moss said. "So many years I played here and we didn't have no one else outside. Now we have Pierre, we have him, we have [free agent Andre Roberts]. ... It's just fun to have those different kinds of targets."
For now, Jackson will continue to work on his timing with Griffin. There are more OTA sessions the next two weeks and a minicamp from June 17-19. And so a player who always did his best to torture the Redskins will get to know his new teammates and coaches better as his first training camp with Washington fast approaches.
But while Jackson's new organization is providing a fresh start, he sees himself under no obligation to it other than to perform on the field. That's never been a problem in the past.
"I think I have a job to do, which is go out there and produce and do what I've done in my career and my past years," Jackson said. "Anything I can do to help contribute to this team winning games and do what I need to do as a professional, I think that's what matters the most."
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