Cal's Jackson studying up for NFL Draft under Rice's tutelage

BERKELEY, Calif. -- DeSean Jackson pivots, stoops and snags a football just before it hits his shoetops. He sprints downfield, and the three-dozen scouts at Memorial Stadium nod in unified approval.

The former California receiver and punt returner even impresses Jerry Rice, who's taking a personal interest in making sure Jackson gets where he wants to go next.

"He has all the talent in the world," Rice said while watching Cal's pro day from the sideline, his 1989 Super Bowl ring dangling from a chain around his neck. "There's no reason he can't be everything he wants to be at the next level."

DeSean Jackson, WR
Height: 6'0"

Weight: 178

College: California

Hometown: Long Beach, Calif.

High School: Long Beach Poly

As Jackson prepares for his early entry into the NFL draft, the former Golden Bears star has quite a tutor. He's getting football instruction and life lessons from Rice, the most prolific receiver in NFL history, before he enters the league as a probable first-round pick.

"He's my man, like my mentor," Jackson said. "He's been a great inspiration for me for a long time, and now to get to be with him is like a dream come true. He reminds me every day that to be the best in the world, it's all about working harder than anybody else."

Jackson connected with Rice through DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment, the management firm run by former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo. One of the firm's perks was up-close contact with Rice, who's still close with DeBartolo after winning three Super Bowls together.

Rice and Jackson began working out together in Pensacola, Fla., before the NFL combine, and they've continued meeting back home in the Bay Area. Though Rice doesn't fancy himself a true coach, he provides his observations and anecdotal instruction to his hungry protege, who's striving to be more than a kick-returning specialist who sometimes catches passes, like Chicago's Devin Hester.

Rice shares his philosophies on everything from professionalism to the proper usage of speed. Jackson's 4.35-second time in the 40-yard dash was the best among receivers at the NFL combine.

"You can see he knows how to catch the ball, but what I'm trying to let him know is there's a time for speed, and there's a time to keep it under control," Rice said. "I had football speed. People, when they were chasing me, I was just able to run away from people. The hair would stand up on my back, and I was able to get away, because I knew they wanted to hurt me."

Survival skills will come in handy for Jackson, who's undersized by most conventional measures of a receiver. Jackson acknowledges he's about 5-foot-10 and 169 pounds - not the 6-footer he claimed to be at Cal.

"Yeah, that was in shoes," he laughed.

Rice also worked last year with USC's Steve Smith, who went to the New York Giants, but he compares Jackson to the better-known Steve Smith, the Pro Bowl receiver who stars for the Carolina Panthers. Both are smallish pass-catchers who thrive on speed and will - qualities Rice sees in abundance in Jackson.

"He's let me know that if you're able to catch the ball and be competitive, pretty soon they'll forget about your size," said Jackson, who still declared for the draft after an uninspiring junior season at Cal.

Since Rice retired on a one-day contract with the 49ers in 2006, the 45-year-old has been a bit of a dilettante, unable to slow the breakneck pace he kept during his record-breaking career.

Rice has appeared on two reality television shows and written his second book. He also hosts a show on Sirius satellite radio and appears regularly on Bay Area newscasts as a commentator who notably predicted 49ers owner John York wouldn't fire coach Mike Nolan in January after the club's fifth straight losing season.

"I like what I'm doing right now, the place where I'm at," he said.

The 49ers resolved a potential conflict with Rice on Wednesday when the club announced new receiver Isaac Bruce won't wear No. 80, which Rice wore for 16 seasons. While Rice's jersey is among the most hallowed in 49ers history, the club still hasn't retired it.

Rice seemed open to the idea of allowing Bruce to wear his old number, but wasn't sure how fans would react. Bruce signed with San Francisco last month after 14 years as the Rams' No. 80.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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