The best part of the job for Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is the change.
Because his units are largely comprised of guys at the bottom of the roster, a good many of the faces in the special teams room are different from year to year. He’s like a drill sergeant at Parris Island with a group of new recruits.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of the job,’’ he said Saturday. “I enjoy this process. It’s fun getting a new group and building them together and going through the ups and downs and growing.’’
Fipp is good at his job. Very good. His Eagles special team groups have been ranked No. 1 in the league two of the last three seasons. His 2015 units were a real disappointment, finishing fifth.
“We start with what we call beginner’s mentality and we assume nothing,’’ Fipp said. “You have to go through every single thing every year.
“There are still mistakes, even in the game Thursday night [against the Bills] where you go, ‘Oh my gosh. Are you serious?’ So you can’t take anything for granted.
“We have a long way to go. But I feel good about the group overall.’’
He lost one of his top special teams players – Bryan Braman – during the offseason when the Eagles opted not to re-sign him.
But several other valuable core special-teamers return, including safety Chris Maragos and tight end Trey Burton and linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill and Najeh Goode.
“I think a lot of our success has to do with the trust we all have in coach Fipp,’’ Maragos said. “He is really easy to trust. You see how detailed he is and how much he wants to win.’’
Fipp has yet to mention the Eagles’ No. 1 special teams ranking last season to his players this summer. Probably won’t. What’s the point? That was then, this is now.
“It’s such a different group,’’ he said. “You can’t take anything for granted. You have to earn it every year. You have to earn it every week.
“I’m not trying to be cliché or whatever they call that, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of change. You have to fight to get it back. If you think it’s going to come on its own, you’re kidding yourself.’’
If his players needed a reminder of that, they got it in the Eagles’ first preseason game against Green Bay when the Packers’ Trevor Davis returned a second-quarter punt 68 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s the kind of stuff that keeps you awake at night,’’ he said. “We were embarrassed by that play, even though it came in the preseason.
“Somebody said something to me about a penalty [by the Packers on the play]. I don’t see it that way at all. You’re looking to make sure guys are in the right position. We didn’t have guys in good enough position on that play.
“This game will humble you quick. Which is part of the fun of it.’’
The Eagles’ coverage units were very good last season. They finished fifth in kickoff coverage and first in opponent average drive start on kickoffs.
Their lone punt coverage gaffe was a 65-yard touchdown return to the Bears’ Eddie Royal in Week 2. Just one of the other 24 punt returns against the Eagles was longer than 12 yards.
They finished second in both punt and kickoff return average. Darren Sproles, who turned 34 in June, averaged a career-high 13.2 yards per punt return.
Sproles will not play in the preseason, but will be the Eagles’ punt returner again in Week 1 against Washington.
“I can’t wait to get him back out there,’’ Fipp said. “He makes such a big difference.
“You have to think at some point we’re not going to have Darren anymore. At some point, we’re going to have to have another answer or plan.
“You always have to have a backup plan going into the season. If he goes down, what are you going to do?’’
The Eagles have used rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey on punt returns in the first two preseason games. He didn’t return punts at San Diego State and still is getting used to it. He had a fumble in the Packers game and has averaged just 2.3 yards on six returns.
Torrey Smith has returned punts in practice. So has Nelson Agholor, who also is a kick return candidate. And last week, the Eagles signed rookie Rashard Davis. He fielded a punt against Buffalo, but it was a fair catch.
Last year at James Madison, Davis averaged 28.4 yards per return and had four touchdowns on 15 returns for the FCS national champions.
“The guy’s explosive on the practice field,’’ Fipp said. “Hopefully, we can get him a return in a game. Right now, we’re trying to to figure out our options and possibilities in case something happens during the year.
“Thank goodness we have Sproles.’’
Fipp acknowledged that the Jordan Matthews trade probably has taken Agholor out of the mix as a kickoff return candidate since he is expected to be the team’s primary slot receiver.
That leaves Wendell Smallwood, who had an 86-yard touchdown return against Washington last year as a rookie, and possibly undrafted rookie Corey Clement. Another rookie, wide receiver Mack Hollins, also is a possibility.
“Smallwood had the home run last year,’’ Fipp said. “We’re excited about him. And watching Clement run the ball on offense, I think he could be a factor back there depending on how this [roster decisions] all shakes out, which is way above my pay grade.’’
Kicker Caleb Sturgis made 35 of 41 field goal attempts last season, including four of six from 50-plus yards.
He missed a 46-yard attempt against the Packers two weeks ago and had a 45-yard miss Thursday against the Bills. But Fipp said he’s not concerned.
“He missed some kicks that we would like him to make, that he would like to make, but I’m happy with him,’’ he said. “I see progress with him every week. He had his best pregame warmup going into that (Buffalo) game. He missed a 46-yarder, then came back and hit a 48-yarder.’’