Friday, August 22, 2014
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What we've learned: Eagles special teams

Through three preseason games, special teams has provided a pleasant surprise for the Eagles.

What we've learned: Eagles special teams

Eagles fourth-round pick Alex Henery has made all three of his field goal attempts this preseason. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)
Eagles fourth-round pick Alex Henery has made all three of his field goal attempts this preseason. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)

Through three preseason games, special teams has provided a pleasant surprise for the Eagles.

But in 10 days, the Birds will start the season with a rookie punter, a rookie kicker and some new faces on the coverage units. And even before then, Andy Reid and Howie Roseman will have Bobby April's group in mind when they trim the roster to 53 players this weekend.

In 2010, Football Outsiders ranked the Eagles' special teams at No. 12. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News had the Birds 14th.

Keeping that in mind, here's a look at what we've learned about the Eagles' special teams units during the first three preseason games. I've included Fooball Outsiders' rank for each unit in parentheses:

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KICKOFF COVERAGE (FO 2010 Rank: 7th)

David Akers kicked touchbacks on 24 percent of his kickoff attempts last season. That was a career high and ranked eighth in the NFL.

In the preseason, Alex Henery hit touchbacks on four of 10 kickoffs (not counting two onside kick attempts). When the Ravens, Steelers and Browns tried to return kicks, they didn't have much success. The best return got to the 25 yard line, and three of the six failed to get past the 20. However, opponents ended up at no worse than the 19 yard line on any of the returns.

Curtis Marsh, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Akeem Jordan, Colt Anderson, Moise Fokou, Donald Lee, Brandon Hughes and Jamar Adams were each in on at least one tackle. Fokou, Jordan and Anderson (along with Kurt Coleman) led the Eagles in special teams tackles a year ago.

While names are sure to change, here are the players who made up the kickoff coverage group against Cleveland: Anderson, Riley Cooper, Joselio Hanson, Jordan, Fokou, Keenan Clayton, Jarrett, Owen Schmitt, Lee, Jarrad Page and Henery.

PUNT COVERAGE (FO 2010 Rank: 15th)

Chas Henry takes over punting duties form Sav Rocca, and he's had some ups and downs this preseason.

Overall, four of his nine punts have gone into the end zone for touchbacks. Against the Steelers, he had one ugly punt that went just 28 yards before going out of bounds.

Anderson is the Eagles' best gunner. On the four punts that did not go out of bounds or into the end zone, Anderson was either the first man downfield or the the player to make the tackle on three of them.

Clayton, Marsh, Clay Harbor, Brandon Hughes and Brian Rolle each had at least one standout moment in punt coverage where they were one of the first downfield or made a tackle.

KICKOFF RETURNS (FO 2010 Rank: 29th)

Eight of 11 kickoff returns were touchbacks. Johnnie Lee Higgins, Sinorice Moss, Dion Lewis and Chad Hall all saw action as kickoff returners.

Of that group, Moss was the only one to return any of the kicks. He took one to the 23 yard line and another to the 26. Rod Harper also returned one kickoff.

Ronnie Brown and Lewis are listed on the depth chart behind Higgins, who is unlikely to make the team.

This unit was one of the league's worst last year so it's difficult to imagine much of a dropoff.

PUNT RETURNS (FO 2010 Rank: 8th)

Higgins and Moss have handled the Eagles' 10 punt returns. However, only three of the 10 opportunities resulted in a return.

Moss had returns of 3 and 6 yards. Higgins had a 3-yarder also. Nothing too exciting there.

This is really going to be an interesting one. I don't think Higgins or Moss makes the roster. Is DeSean Jackson going to be back there every time as the punt returner in the regular season? We'll see. The depth chart has him listed at the top.

FIELD GOALS/EXTRA POINTS (FO 2010 Rank: 9th)

Henery hit all three of his field-goal attempts, from 35, 24 and 37 yards, respectively. He also nailed six extra points.

Do those numbers alleviate concerns about going into the season with a rookie kicker? Of course not. But it was at least somewhat encouraging to see him make the most of the opportunities he had.

FINAL THOUGHTS

* Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have each had field goal blocks.

* According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles led all teams with 29 special-teams penalties last season.

* I've flip-flopped all preseason, but I don't see how the Eagles can leave Anderson off the final roster. Punt coverage remains the same deal as previous years, and while there won't be as many kickoff returns, I just think Anderson is too valuable to let go. The Eagles obviously made special teams an emphasis before last season by adding April to the mix. It wouldn't make sense to follow that move up a year later and give up on their best coverage guy. But we'll find out if I'm right on Saturday.


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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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