Saturday, December 27, 2014

Page to Start; Lewis Ready to Return Kicks (Or Not)

Some notes from today's media sessions with coordinators and then players:

Page to Start; Lewis Ready to Return Kicks (Or Not)

Jarrad Page will start at safety Sunday. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Jarrad Page will start at safety Sunday. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Some notes from today's media sessions with coordinators and then players:

* Free agent newcomer Jarrad Page will start at safety over second-year man Nate Allen, who missed the end of last season with a knee injury, and has struggled with tendinitis recently.

* DeSean Jackson really will be the primary punt returner, Bobby April said, that isn't just something they put on the depth chart. Jackson will return punts except when he is gassed from his offensive responsibilities. April said there are fewer options on the team this season, perhaps forcing Jackson into a heavier workload.

"He’s the primary guy as far as I’m concerned," April said. "Last year we had a couple of other guys that could and did return punts. I think when he gets replaced in a game it will be coach Reid’s decision that we need to give him a break right here, or I think he’s gassed, or maybe DeSean will even express it that he’s a little bit gassed or whatever. And that’s how that takes place."

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* Rookie Dion Lewis will be the primary kick returner, although April conceded there will be fewer returns, especially Sunday in the dome in St. Louis. Riley Cooper is expected to line up with Lewis, because of Cooper's blocking prowess.

"I think he’s been really impressive," April said. " I think he’s going to be good on the kick returns."

April lauded the work that Duce Staley has done with the returners.

* Asked if he was nervious about where things stand going into the opener, Marty Mornhinweg said, "You can't play scared, man, you gotta go." He said the Rams' defensive scheme "looks and smells like Jim Johnson's." Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was an Eagles linebackers coach under Johnson.

* Mornhinweg said the offensive line faces a great challenge, but they are "proud men" who will meet it head on.

* Wide receiver Steve Smith has showed enough to be able to play Sunday, decision will be made later in the week, Mornhinweg said.

* Kyle DeVan is still adjusting to the terminology but has looked sharp in practice, Morninhweg said.

"I’ve got great expectations for our offensive line and so do they," Mornhinweg said. "I would expect us to play at a high, high level Sunday in the dome there.”

* Juan Castillo said the teams that are in the best condition will win the first 3-4 weeks of the season. “We’ve gotten dealt the same hand, and we’ll be there with everyone else," he said. "The coaches have a great plan in place, and we’ll be ready to go play.”

* Asked about defending against the Rams' Steven Jackson, Castillo said, "I think the first thing you want to do is stop the run. That will be a great challenge for our guys. We have been working on the fundamentals for the run game, and that’s one of the things we do right after we tackle. Our linebackers work on working their hands, and that’s something that we’ll do every day.”

* Vince Young (hamstring) did not practice today. Listed on the injury report, S Nate Allen (knee), DT Antonio Dixon (back), TE Clay Harbor (shoulder), T Todd Herremans (back), S Jaiquawn Jarrett (quadricep), T Winston Justice (knee), DT Trevor Laws (hip), DE Juqua Parker (calf), WR Steve Smith (knee), G Danny Watkins (foot).

***

Lewis wasn't the kick returner at Pitt, because the Panthers didn't want to risk their best back, but he was the backup, he said, so he practiced returns all the time, without ever making any. That might be the best possible preparation for being a returner in the NFL of 2011, where moving up the kickoffs 5 yards is going to mean more and more touchbacks, by design, because head and spine injuries happen so often on returns.

"I'm real comfortable catching the ball," said Lewis. That might be 90 percent of the battle, particularly in the Edward Jones Dome this weekend.

"It only takes one bad kick for there to be a good return," Lewis said. "I'm just going to be patient back there, not try to rush anything by taking it out."

Lewis said the rule of thumb is 5 yards deep in the end zone. Anything beyond that, you take a knee. He said you obviously also want to take the kick's trajectory into account as well, but there is no rule there.

"You can tell when it's just hanging in the air forever," he said.

Lewis said the most important thing, other than catching the ball, is "when you make a decision, stick with it. Go with it 100 percent."

Lewis said he'll also rely on Cooper to tell him how far back in the end zone he is, how close the tacklers are, and so forth. 

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