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Bucs WR DeSean Jackson knows only one direction: full speed ahead

DeSean Jackson, a needed Bucs game-breaker who signed a $33.5 million deal, welcomes big expectations.
DeSean Jackson, a needed Bucs game-breaker who signed a $33.5 million deal, welcomes big expectations.
Published May 27, 2017

TAMPA — DeSean Jackson is the "1."

Actually, Jackson, the Bucs' latest weapon for quarterback Jameis Winston, with his blazing speed and game-changing splash plays, wears No. 11 in games.

But in practice? He's the 1. That's what he was wearing this week at One Buc Place.

Maybe he ran so fast that one of the 1s came off.

"Keeps my youth," Jackson said. "Keeps the memories."

Jackson has worn No. 1 going back to his Pop Warner days. Then in high school. And at Cal when his Heisman campaign was "The 1 to Watch."

A wide receiver can't wear No. 1 in games. Only quarterbacks and kickers can do that.

Too bad. You can tell Jackson isn't happy about it. It's the only time he has ever been jealous of a kicker.

So he settles for wearing No. 1 in practice.

"Obviously, a lot of guys probably would be wearing single digits (in games), especially skill players," Jackson said. "Something about the swag and how sweet it looks out there."

Jackson has the swag regardless of the number, and he's expected to be a key component on a Bucs offense that has a chance to be as potent as any in the NFL. That's why the team signed the 30-year-old speedster to a three-year, $33.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.

With the money comes big expectations. Jackson knows that. He won't apologize for what he makes. Play well in this league and you get rewarded. That's what happened with Jackson.

But Jackson no longer cares about past Sundays, only the Sundays in his future.

"One thing about myself, I'm a professional," Jackson said. "When it comes time to play the game, I'm going to give it everything I got."

He already is doing that. Jackson is training like he did when he was a 22-year-old rookie.

He spent this offseason working out with Gary Cablayan, the track coach Jackson has trained with since he was 7. The workouts are intense and strictly track stuff —speed, quickness, the type of bursts that, for Jackson, turns cornerbacks into statues.

"I felt that it was important to get out there training," Jackson said, "and let people know that even though I am 30 … I'm still at the position where I feel like I'm still young, I'm rejuvenated and I'm ready to play this game at a high level."

Jackson's game always has been about speed. It has helped him to five 1,000-yard receiving seasons. It helped him average a league-high 17.9 yards per catch last season. He has 57 career catches for more than 40 yards, and 150 of 20 or more yards. That's in only 127 games.

He clearly has maintained that speed, as he showed in practice Tuesday when the offense lined up against the defense for the first time. Every time he lined up with Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in his face, he gave Winston the look of, "I'm going deep."

"I can assure you that he has a gear that we haven't seen on this team in the three years that I've been here," coach Dirk Koetter said.

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Jackson's presence should help the running game by keeping the other team's safeties deeper. It should open space for receiver Mike Evans and tight end O.J. Howard. And, most of all, it's another weapon for Winston.

"I know DeSean is going to bring a lot to us this year," Winston said. "You can see it out there in practice now. Yeah, we already have that chemistry down pat now."

Jackson agrees, saying his chemistry with Winston is "going great."

"It's still early," Jackson said. "We have still been getting some good work in, so I'm looking forward to once training camp (starts) and July, August and getting ready for the season. That is what I look forward to. Don't get me wrong, this is fun and all the stuff is good for the team, but I start getting a lot more excited once the games come."

When the games come, Jackson will be fun to watch. He'll be the guy wearing No. 11, assuming he slows down long enough for us to catch his number.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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