Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Raiders’ practice slowed down for a few seconds Wednesday afternoon during individual drills when wide receiver DeSean Jackson ran out on his first passing route.
Everyone, as quarterback Derek Carr described it, wanted to catch a glimpse of the newest, if not now the most well-known, Raider in action.
“I want to watch him run,” Carr admitted. “I want to watch him catch the ball. I was just excited to throw him the ball.”
Jackson, the 14-year NFL veteran, arrived in Las Vegas on Monday after officially signing with the Raiders to help them address a thin receiving corps. Wednesday marked his first practice, and the 34-year-old’s presence was felt immediately as he glided down the field with his smooth, trademark stride wearing his new, rolled-up No. 1 jersey.
Jackson comes to the Raiders following a short-lived seven-game stint with his hometown Los Angeles Rams. He asked for a trade then his release after not receiving as many opportunities as he anticipated.
The circumstances of his exit from Los Angeles combined with the attention he’s garnered since arriving in Las Vegas may lead some to think he’ll play a big role starting Sunday night when the Raiders host the Chiefs. But interim coach Rich Bisaccia said that was not guaranteed, and Jackson said it was not expected.
“I’m not asking to get the ball 100 times or asking to play 100%,” Jackson said. “Whatever the role that fits, let me play it to the best of my ability.”
That was an interesting numerical choice considering Jackson had played exactly 100 snaps over seven games with the Rams before he asked to explore opportunities with other teams. He was included on only four plays in the Rams’ 28-19 win over the Lions in Week 7 with no receptions, and that was apparently the breaking point.
The only time he was integrated less into the game plan was in Week 2 when he played a season-low three snaps and didn’t record a target. Jackson went to the coaching staff after that game and requested more of a workload, resulting in the highlight of his season so far — a 75-yard touchdown reception as part of a 34-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“He’s very fast and he can still run,” Carr said. “That definitely showed up today.”
There was little doubt that Jackson was still physically capable of playing in the NFL, but the Raiders’ bigger question was whether he’d fit in the locker room. Despite an off-field season of turmoil, including the tragic car accident allegedly caused by Henry Ruggs III that created the roster space for Jackson, the Raiders believe they’re strong from a chemistry perspective.
They didn’t want Jackson to disrupt that, but it apparently didn’t take long for Jackson to convince the powers-that-be that he wouldn’t cause issues in that department. Bisaccia, general manager Mike Mayock and others held a Zoom call with Jackson on Saturday that by all accounts made both sides feel like they had a match.
“He told us point blank on our Zoom call the other day, he’d look pretty good in the silver and black,” Mayock said.
Bisaccia and the offensive coaches also liked that Jackson was coming off playing in the Rams’ offense, which is similar to the one employed by the Raiders. He’s put in extra work with wide receivers coaches Edgar Bennett and Nick Holz since Monday to pick up intricacies of the Raiders’ offense.
“Coming to any team or any program middle of the season is obviously tough to grasp the offense,” Jackson said. “These NFL offenses are very strategic, a lot of information, new coding and wording. But it did play a part that (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) used to be with (Rams coach) Sean McVay and a lot of words, code words are similar. It’s definitely a different system, but at this point, we have a package for me and certain plays I’ll be able to get in there and play fast.”
The assumption is that Jackson will fill the No. 1 receiver, or “Z”, role that Ruggs held earlier in the year but Bisaccia left open some possibility that he could play elsewhere or multiple different spots. The Raiders are still also high on veteran Zay Jones even though he had a subpar performance in his first start with only one catch for 20 yards in last week’s loss to the Giants. Jackson has played everywhere, from both sides out wide to the slot, throughout a career that’s seen him nudge his way up the NFL record books.
He’s 38th all-time in receiving yards (10,877), 39th in yards per reception (17.9) and 100th in receiving touchdowns (57). He hoped to add more to those career totals in Los Angeles, but it became clear the paths to do so were limited.
The chances should be more plentiful in Las Vegas where Jackson says he’s comfortable however the coaching staff decides to utilize him.
“Whatever I’m asked to do at this point where I’m at, coming in midway through it and the unfortunate situation with Ruggs, it’s kind of — I’m not saying feeling-out role but just being that spark that I’ve been able to be my whole career and having a defense have to account for that,” Jackson said. “So if it’s just being a decoy opening up for other guys — (Darren) Waller, Hunter (Renfrow), whatever it is I need to do to be a spark is what I’m here for.”