Thanks to the increased number of touchbacks and the fact that the Eagles offense turned the ball over four times in the first half last week (and the Steelers didn't punt), there really haven't been many chances to get a look at the Eagles special teams units. Bobby April says the lack of returns you've seen from the Eagles so far this preseason has been an outlier, even given the decreased amount league wide.
"That's an aberration really because the rule is going to affect up to 40% of the kickoffs that will be touchbacks. That's 60% kickoff return percentage, but it won't be like our games. Two teams that have returned two and three in two games, and there haven't been any punt returns. In statistics, our two games would be an outlier. It has been tougher to evaluate because if guys go down and they don't have to make a play on the ball, you can't evaluate the part that really counts."
Rookie kicker Alex Henery will have a pretty significant impact on this upcoming season, but we've seen very little of him in preseason. He hit two shorter FGs against the Ravens and didn't even attempt a kick last week. His kickoffs have been good (4 of 5 have been touchbacks), but that's not very telling given the new rule. There were a lot of reports that the rookie had been inconsistent at Lehigh, but April said that he's improved since camp broke and he's been working on better fields. That said, dealing with the less than ideal conditions at Lehigh was a good learning experience.
"He kicked a lot better yesterday. That Bethlehem field is not the best, but that’s not a bad place to train on. I’ve seen worse fields, not so much lately, but when I first came in the league they still had a lot of baseball/football stadiums going and old surfaces. I think it’s good training for a guy. I think for every guy coming into the league, there should be a grapes of wrath period because not just everything is laid out perfectly for you. I think it’s really good that he trained there."
Back to kickoffs however, April says that he expects about 65% of kickoffs to be returned when the season starts. However, he does also think that guys will get more ambitious and return kickoffs that go into the end zone as the season wears on.
"I think you'll be seeing a lot of that. The other day we returned one that was nine yards [deep in the end zone]. I know the opening kick by Washington against the Steelers was brought out from nine yards. You're definitely going to see people taking a shot, and that's a big gamble because there is a real opportunity to tackle them inside the 20. You don't want to be too stubborn. I think there comes a point where it's a little bit like waving the white flag when you take a knee. You say, ‘You won this one, but I'm okay with it.' I think that ruffles people the wrong way, and people just on their competitiveness that say, ‘I might lose this battle but I'm not taking this.' I'm pretty positive that people will start to have that mentality because people have started to bring them out deeper than ever before this preseason. I don't think that'll change. The mentality might change a little bit, knowing that it's a foolish decision but people will always think, ‘I need to get this."