Commentary

Soul doesn't want Jackson to change one bit

McCarthy: Jackson won't change ... and that's good for Philly

Originally Published: July 25, 2008
By Jack McCarthy | Special to ESPN.com

When you're having the kind of season like Philadelphia WR Chris Jackson's, change is not necessarily good.

Perhaps that explains the approach of Arena Football League's most valuable offensive player as Arena Bowl XXII looms this Sunday.

"What I'm trying to do is practice and keep the demeanor of the team (calm)," said Jackson, who is making his second career Arena Bowl appearance. "We're trying to make it as regular as possible,"

[+] EnlargeChris Jackson
Bob DeLorenzo/AFL/Getty ImagesPhilly WR Chris Jackson has been unstoppable this season and could be the best free-agent signing of the year.
Countering Jackson will be a supreme challenge for defending champ San Jose when it meets Philadelphia in the AFL title clash on Sunday at New Orleans Arena (ABC, 3 p.m. ET).

"There are players that can make plays and then there are big-time players that make the big plays," said SaberCats' coach Darren Arbet. "Chris is going to make the big plays. He's obviously the best receiver right now in the league. You're going to have to make it up somewhere else."

The Soul expected big things from the suburban Philadelphia native when he signed a two-year deal last November. And Jackson certainly delivered.

In 16 regular season games, Jackson led the league receiving touchdowns (49) and first downs (111) and was second in receptions (140), receiving yards (1,719) and scoring (294 points). Along the way he became only the third player in AFL history with 300 receiving touchdowns and more than 2,000 points.

His marks for receptions, touchdown and total yardage were Soul records as Jackson earned All-Arena first team honors. His efforts helped the Soul to their best regular season record (13-3) and only the second winning season in the team's five-year history.

He also continues to climb the charts in the postseason. Jackson caught four touchdown passes in this month's 59-30 Divisional Round victory over New York to become the fifth AFL player with 200 career postseason points.

The following week in the National Conference title game against Cleveland, he had two more TD catches to become only the seventh player in league history with 100 in postseason play.

"Chris hasn't let us down yet," said Soul coach Bret Munsey.

Jackson didn't even miss a beat even when the Soul were forced to switch quarterbacks in midstream.

Philadelphia opened the season with veteran quarterback Tony Graziani. It was a comfortable fit since Graziani threw to Jackson when they were teammates in Los Angeles for four seasons.

But when Graziani went down in Week 3 with a knee sprain, the Soul switched to backup Matt D'Orazio, a newcomer signed after his release from the Chicago Rush.

It didn't seem to matter who took snaps. Jackson just kept making catches and piling up big numbers as the Soul continued to win.

"Statistically, (Jackson) might go down as the best to ever play wide receiver," said D'Orazio, who has thrown 32 touchdown passes to Jackson and was honored as AFL's top quarterback earlier this month.

Jackson was a top target for quarterback Ryan Leaf at Washington State from 1996-97. As a senior, he set a single season record with 11 touchdown receptions and ranked fourth in the PAC-10 with 54 catches for 1,005 yards.

After college, he spent one season (1998) on the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad and later had NFL training camp tryouts with Seattle, Tennessee, Green Bay and Miami.

Jackson joined AFL's Los Angeles Avengers in 2000 and went on to claim rookie of the year honors after leading the team in in 1,325 receiving yards, 91 receptions and 26 touchdowns. In 2003, he was named offensive player of the year for the first time. Two years later played in Arena Bowl XIX with the Georgia Force.

The Soul already have a win over the SaberCats this season -- a 58-57 come-from-behind triumph in week seven. But that previous meeting has little bearing on Sunday's clash.

"It's a completely different game," Jackson said. "The only thing you take from that game is film. They're doing it too -- looking for weaknesses and things to do better.

"It's good to have the No. 1 teams from each conference playing and it's going to be a great game. We're just going to try to get started early and maintain it."