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Eagles special teams figures to be a strength once again

Eagles training camp position preview.

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2017 is almost here. The first practice starts on July 24. The Eagles' entire training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the special teams unit.


The Dave Fipp Factor

Chip Kelly had a lot of flaws, but you have to give him credit where it’s due: hiring Dave Fipp as special teams coordinator in 2013 was a great move. Look at how the Eagles special teams units have ranked under Fipp over the past four seasons (via Football Outsiders).

2013 - 25th
2014 - 1st
2015 - 10th
2016 - 1st

With Fipp around, there’s reason to believe the Eagles special teams unit will be a strength once again in 2017. Philadelphia also still employs key ST players such as Chris Maragos, Trey Burton, and Najee Goode. Newcomers Kamu Grugier-Hill and Terrence Brooks made some nice contributions on specials last year. The Eagles drafted Mack Hollins, whom Mike Mayock referred to as “the best special teams player in the draft,” in the fourth round this year.

The specialists

Kicker: Caleb Sturgis

Punter: Donnie Jones

Long Snapper: Jon Dorenbos

Punt Returner: Darren Sproles

Kick Returner: Wendell Smallwood (?)

Sturgis easily beat out Cody Parkey last offseason to win the Eagles’ kicker job. Power Struge went on to have a career-best field goal percentage at 85.4%. No one will be mistaking him for Justin Tucker but Sturgis has turned into a reliable kicker. Sturgis was money on all of his field goal attempts during spring practices this year.

Jones is now 37 years old but he’s still going strong. He finished 14th in gross punting average last season and 11th in net average. The Eagles brought in undrafted rookie Cameron Johnston to “compete” for the punter job, though he’ll probably just provide some relief for Jones’ leg during camp.

Dorenbos turns 37 in a week. The Eagles showed their commitment to him by rewarding the magic man with an extension last November. Philadelphia is still carrying long snapper Rick Lovato on the roster.

The 2017 season might mark the last year of Sproles’ NFL playing career. Until he retires, the 34-year-old veteran is still one of the best punt returners in the NFL. He ranked third in punt return average last year and would have finished first if it weren’t for one of his touchdowns getting called back last year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles give rookie Donnel Pumphrey some looks at punt returner this year. He’s looked natural handling those duties in practice. Still, it’ll be hard to take opportunities away from Sproles considering how special he is.

The kick returner position might be the only area where the Eagles are worse off from last year. Josh Huff was a good option for Philadelphia there last year before he got cut. Smallwood showed some KR potential as a rookie with nine returns for 261 yards and a touchdown. Keep an eye on Pumphrey for this spot as well.