The Eagles made two new signings on Wednesday morning. Both were special teams players that most people probably haven't heard of before. "Championship!" you may have sarcastically proclaimed. Jokes aside, these moves seem pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
But that's not the case.
Special teams really matter to Chip Kelly. When Andy Reid was still the head coach in Philadelphia, the Eagles reportedly didn't practice special teams until the end of the practice. Based on what I've heard, it seemed like a rushed affair. That's not the case with Kelly. When I attended training camp every day last year, I could see that ST was a big focus. Chip himself would spend a good deal of time making sure the ST unit was being kept up to satisfaction.
I think Chip really sees special teams an extension of his offense. For example: when the Eagles punt, it's not just about pinning the opponent deep into their territory to make life easy on the defense. It's about giving the Eagles' offense good field position when they take over on their next drive. Another example: when the Eagles are returning punts and kicks, it's not just to set up the offense with decent field position. It's about putting up as many points as possible. Hardly an earth-shattering observation, but it's my take on how Chip sees things.
The Eagles' special teams performance in 2013, under new ST coordinator Dave "Crazy Eyes" Fipp wasn't all that great. As you can see from these charts, the Eagles were below average in returning kicks and punts. The coverage teams were better. The punt coverage team was above average and the kickoff coverage unit finished a little below average. The reasons behind these struggles was arguably talent related. Colt Anderson, bless his heart, missed a lot of tackles and wasn't the same ST beast that he usually was. That's not always easy for me to admit because I appreciate Anderson's contributions.
The Eagles felt it would be appropriate to add two new faces to special teams, and I have to say I think it was a good decision. The Eagles already knew what they had in Anderson and Coleman and it wasn't all that impressive. New signings Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman have more of a special teams prowess than their predecessors. Maragos makes ST tackles and is often the first man down the field. Braman seems like the kind of knucklehead (and I say that endearingly) who runs down the field on coverage duty and doesn't care what happens to his body as long as he hits someone hard. As an added bonus, both players provide depth as much needed positions: safety and outside linebacker, respectively.
I think the Eagles could have a very good special teams unit in 2014. They still need a punt returner, but perhaps they could add one through the draft. The kick returner should be Brad Smith, who is a solid option. Donnie Jones will continue to pin opponents inside their 20 yard line. Kicker Alex Henery is a bit of a question mark, but the Eagles will likely bring in another kicker to challenge him. And then along with the new guys, the coverage teams will likely feature:
James Casey - Excellent on special teams last year. Led team in ST tackles.
Brandon Boykin - Great gunner who can down Jones' punts deep in opponent territory.
Brad Smith - Can cover as well as return.
Jason Phillips - Special teams ace the Eagles signed in FA last year but tore his ACL in training camp.
Najee Goode - Proved to be a good signing off the scrap heap after roster cutdowns.
That looks like a strong unit.
I know these kind of moves don't exactly move the needle for many. But for the Eagles and Chip Kelly, it's nice to see they care about "the little things." In a bigger sense, it's the careful attention to detail that shows the Eagles are committed to do everything it takes to win. That's certainly an encouraging sign.