Philadelphia Eagles training camp is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 24. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We finish today by taking a look at the special teams unit. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line | Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Cornerback | Safety.
It’s not exactly clear who’ll be returning punts for the Eagles in 2019.
We do know that DeSean Jackson will get some looks there. Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said as much back in June. I don’t need to remind you, the New York Giants, or Matt Dodge that Jackson has the ability to take it to the house.
It’s hard to imagine Jackson will be the full-time punt returner, though. He turns 33 this season and he’s already going to have a big offensive role. Not to mention that Jackson has only handled 23 total punt returns since the start of the 2012 season (3.3 per season average).
So, who could be splitting return duty with Jackson? Fipp pointed to the following players as contenders in the mix: Boston Scott, Marken Michel, DeAndre Thompkins, and Donnel Pumphrey.
The thing with those guys is ... none of them are sure-fire locks to make the 53-man roster. Scott probably has the best chance; Doug Pederson has openly talked about him as a Darren Sproles replacement. Scott also took first team punt return reps during OTAs/minicamp.
Scott fits the profile of a jitterbug player who could be successful on punt returns. He hardly has extensive experience in that role, though, having never returned a single punt during a college or NFL regular season game.
Punt returner is a spot to watch this summer. It’s not impossible that the Eagles could re-sign Sproles in part to fill that role.
Kick returns aren’t so important in today’s touchback-friendly NFL.
Corey Clement logged the most kick returns among Eagles players last year. He posted a respectable 25.6 average on those so he could reasonably resume that role. Or maybe it’ll be Scott if he makes the team. Scott ended the 2018 season as the team’s primary kick returner.
Jake Elliott can frustrate you with his extra point misses (20th in XP% in 2018 and 25th in 2017) but he typically comes up clutch for the Eagles. The 24-year-old is running unopposed in camp for the second year in a row.
Cameron Johnston, who turned 27 back in February, will be the Eagles’ punter in 2019. Hopefully he shows improved hang time and reduces his touchbacks during his second NFL season. Johnston will also serve as the Eagles’ holder for Elliott on field goal/extra point attempts.
Rick Lovato graded out as PFF’s eighth best long snapper in 2018. Apparently the word didn’t get to Madden:
Since everyone’s buzzing about their “low” ranking I don’t wanna hear it... pic.twitter.com/BrLdxFIZY5— Rick Lovato (@TheSnappingLife) July 16, 2019
Lovato’s an unrestricted free agent in March. Another good season should earn him a multi-year contract with Philly.
Also known as the “punt protector” or the “upback.” Blake Countess was taking first team reps at this spot during spring drills. Seems like a good sign for his roster chances.
SPECIAL TEAMS COVERAGE
Notable projected contributors here include special teams captain Kamu Grugier-Hill (led the Eagles in ST tackles the past two years), Blake Countess (previous NFC Special Teams Player of the Week winner), Nathan Gerry, Richard Rodgers, Mack Hollins, L.J. Fort, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Note that not all of those players are necessarily locks to make the 53-man. Some roster spots will be won/lost this summer based on special teams performance.
On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ special teams unit? (5 being the most.)
This poll is closed