- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2014

When DeSean Jackson stood up in a team meeting last Tuesday and urged his Washington Redskins teammates to ignore all the noise echoing around the franchise, the wide receiver’s message carried significant weight.

Since arriving in Washington in April, Jackson has maintained a low profile, eschewing any obligation he may have as a team leader despite his veteran status and the size of his contract. He was driven from Philadelphia, his home for six seasons, amidst a cloud of negativity in March, and careful to mind his own business at Redskins Park. Many challenges or critiques he issued over the past seven months were private and good-natured.

Things changed during that meeting. The Redskins were about to scatter for five days off during their bye week in possession of a 3-6 record, which in itself has spawned several tough, introspective questions. Fed up with the distractions — including a persistent report by ESPN that quarterback Robert Griffin III did not have the support of the rest of his teammates — Jackson told the others to focus only on what they can control.

“You have to understand the importance of supporting on each other,” Jackson said Monday. “We’re in this locker room together. We work so hard, we compete, we do all them great things together, but if everybody’s not on one page at one occurrence, it’s really hard to go out there and … [win] games and just having everybody believing in each other.”

That type of leadership, however limited, is among the things that the Redskins have been lacking this season. Taking charge and motivating the rest of the players — or, at the very least, keeping them united in the pursuit of a common goal — is a role few players seem to have the willingness or clout to embrace.

Jackson, 27, has been selected to play in three Pro Bowls. In April, he signed what is essentially a three-year, $24 million contract, with $16 million guaranteed and a $5 million signing bonus. Though nine games, he leads the NFL with nine receptions of more than 40 yards, is averaging a league-high 21.8 yards per reception and has a team-high 784 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.

Still, Jackson has preferred to view himself as a player who would lead by example, foregoing any verbal confrontations in favor of minding his own business and hoping others will follow. When he stood up and spoke in front of his teammates, he urged them to put aside whatever feelings they harbored about their current situation for the betterment of the team.

The wide receiver didn’t specifically speak about Griffin and the team’s quarterback situation, some players said Monday, and instead focused on a general feeling of disconnect within the locker room. In an appearance on “Fox NFL Sunday,” where he was a guest analyst before Sunday’s games, Jackson did eventually link his monologue to that original ESPN report, acknowledging that if players prefer Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy at quarterback, that’s not a decision for them to make.

“He might’ve been talking personally to a few guys, but just had to address the whole team,” said inside linebacker Adam Hayward. “It’s one of those things where if you were the guy in class not saying anything, but somebody else was, and I addressed the whole class, you wouldn’t pay attention really, right?”

Hayward, the Redskins’ special teams captain, is in his eighth season but his first in Washington. A special teams captain in Tampa Bay for the last two seasons, Hayward has made just 13 starts in his career, demonstrating that there are a significant number of factors that go into holding a leadership role.

Cousins, who did not specifically address any divide among Redskins players, perceived or otherwise, believes the most effective leadership comes from players who have a certain amount of clout in the locker room.

He cited Reed Doughty, the long-time Redskins strong safety who was a special teams stalwart through last season, as someone players respected, but that Doughty struggled to reach some players because he wasn’t an annual Pro Bowl selection or he hadn’t played in the Super Bowl.

“If you’ve played 10-plus years, it helps give you a bigger platform to be a leader,” Cousins said. “If you’re a starter, if you’re highly paid, if you’ve got Pro Bowl talent — all that I think makes a difference. Guys want to listen to somebody who’s successful and can say that he’s been there and done that before.”

Free safety Ryan Clark, in his 13th season, has played in a Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl, but was named a defensive captain only after cornerback DeAngelo Hall tore his left Achilles’ tendon in Week 3 and required surgery that would keep him out for the season. Left tackle Trent Williams, the Redskins’ offensive captain, and nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen, who were captains last year, have said they prefer to lead with their actions and not by their voice.

When asked if the Redskins have enough leaders, Jackson paused, then said, “I wish I could say [there were] a lot more, but I wouldn’t say it lacks.”

But Jackson acknowledged that, at the very least, it can be difficult to try to step into a similar role. It can be even more trying to shoulder those responsibilities over the course of a season.

Sometimes, though, things just need to be said.

“I’ve been through a lot and I understand how things can be portrayed, and that’s the wrong impression that you want to give when you have a young guy [Griffin], being a quarterback and just what he’s been through in his career so far,” Jackson said Monday. “I just want to stand up and let him know I’m supporting him, and hopefully, everybody else can support the situation as well, too.”

Tom Schad contributed to this report.

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