Evaluating the special teams

In the days leading up the draft, we wrote this about the state of the Eagles' special teams:

"Fact is, the Eagles' special teams have slipped dramatically the past few seasons, especially last season. Everybody knows it, which is why several of the players the team has signed in free agency also are known special-teams quantities (defensive end Chris Clemons, linebacker Rocky Boiman, tight end Kris Wilson, fullback Dan Klecko). Last season, the Birds ranked 19th in field position following kickoffs, 23rd in opponent field position after their kickoffs, 29th in net yardage on their punts, and 24th in both kick and punt return average. There were a lot of things that could have changed 8-8 to 9-7 and a playoff berth last season. A crucial touchdown from the special teams might have done it; just being able to hold onto a couple of punts in the season-opening loss at Green Bay almost surely would have done it."

Along with the players mentioned, the Eagles added three potential return men by drafting receiver DeSean Jackson and safety Quintin Demps, and acquiring running back Lorenzo Booker in a draft-day trade with Miami. On Saturday, Jackson and Demps were both fielding punts from Sav Rocca. Free-agent wide receiver Bam Childress and Jackson are among the candidates to return kickoffs, along with Booker, JR Reed and Correll Buckhalter.

Rory Segrest had a difficult first year as the Birds' special teams coordinator. He begins Year 2 with some better tools at his disposal. Here are some highlights from what Segrest told reporters Sunday:

On evaluating all the new players on special teams:
“Right now we’re pretty deep on the depth chart with the number of guys we have. What we’re trying to do is get as many reps as we can possibly get. From a free agent standpoint, guys like [LB] Rocky Boiman and [DE] Chris Clemons, we’ve been able to evaluate them in NFL games and we kind of know where they are at this point. It’s just a matter of learning our system. Any time you have rookies coming in, obviously they’re trying to learn the system. Half of them have never been on special teams, so they’re learning from square one. We’ve got some good talent to work with, so we’re excited about this group.”

On whether he thinks the team made a strong commitment to adding players who are strong on special teams:
“I would like to think so, but at the same time you have to look at the fact that Chris Clemons is a really good defensive end, Rocky Boiman is a good linebacker, and Dan Klecko is a good fullback. You have guys who are also position players, as well. It does give us some veteran leadership on special teams, which we were lacking a little bit last year. We’re excited about having those guys and what they can bring to the table.”

On whether he thinks the special teams unit is bigger than it has been:
“We’ve had good size on special teams; we’ve had some good players. Looking back at it last year, we just had a lot of young guys on the field and they made some rookie mistakes. Again, from a leadership standpoint and from an age standpoint, [we have] guys who have been in the battle and have made the mistakes, have already been there, and know how to make the corrections. Now they come in and can even teach the younger guys now that they’ve been through it.”

On how WR DeSean Jackson’s return ability translates to the NFL:
“We’re definitely excited about his potential at returner for us. At the same time, he hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, so we’re interested in seeing how he carries that over into his first NFL contest. We think he’s going to do a really good job for us. He’s got the speed, he’s got the quickness, and he’s got really good field vision. We’re excited about him.”

On evaluating young players in minicamp:
“All you can do is base off of what you’ve seen from their college tape with these young guys coming in, their physical attributes, what they bring to the table, and carrying that over to the next level. Again, we feel like these guys have the potential to do it, it’s just a matter of getting them game reps and getting them experience.”

On what he expects from P Sav Rocca this year after one year of experience:
“Sav has come a long way. We were out yesterday and he hit a bad ball and then turned right around and hit a 65-yard punt. I think the difference between last year and this year is that last year he was just feeling his way through. He didn’t really trust in his techniques thoroughly. He didn’t quite understand how to make those corrections. This year, he hit the bad ball, he turned around, he knew what he did wrong, and then he hit a good ball. I think that’s the thing we’re going to see this year. He knows how to make those corrections, and I think he’ll get them made.”