Good morning, Eagles fans. Glad to see you made it through the storm yesterday. Here’s hoping you and your basements evaded the flooding. The Eagles have moved into the next phase of training camp this week, with players who passed the initial coronavirus testing now doing strength and conditioning work followed by an on-field walk-through each day. As you’re most likely aware by now, assistant head coach and running backs coach Duce Staley is running the walk-throughs as head coach Doug Pederson quarantines after a positive coronavirus test.
— EJ Smith (email@example.com)
David Fipp has a lot to be excited about.
After the Eagles spent the offseason adding speed seemingly any way possible, the special teams coordinator is looking at a handful of young players to add to the fold. Especially with rookies scrambling to get enough reps to gain trust on offense and defense, there might be more availability than usual for the newcomers to the special teams.
“We’ve got all kinds of options there right now,” Fipp said. “This year, [the front office] has given us a lot of options back there. Everybody wants to be returner, we’re meeting with those rookies right now. They’ve all done it and they’ve all been really good at it.”
That extra help may be just in time, too. The team’s leader in punt returns last season was Darren Sproles, now a retiree and a member of the Eagles’ front office. When Sproles was placed on IR, Greg Ward and Boston Scott picked up the role, but neither created many fireworks. The Eagles finished last season 26th in punt return yards with 160.
Miles Sanders led the team in kick returns, but Sanders will be the lead running back this year, which will likely take him out of the equation as the primary kick returner.
“Projecting Miles might have a little bit bigger role on offense at this point in time ... we’d probably see him less on kickoff return if at all,” Fipp said. “Putting [Sanders or DeSean Jackson] in is always an option at some point depending on the situation, but at the same time, we do have a lot of young talented players that we look forward to getting in the game.”
Here are a few of the returners Fipp has to choose from:
Reagor is the most intriguing option to take over as a primary return man, especially on punts. He was one of the best punt returners in college last season, leading the Big 12 in punt return yards (312) and touchdowns (2). He was fourth in the country in yards and tied for first in scores.
Reagor averaged 20.8 yards per return on 15 returns in his final season at TCU, something that’s gotten Fipp’s attention.
“When the ball’s in his hands, he’s electric,” Fipp said. “He made a lot happen, obviously had a huge average in college. We’re really excited about him, when he’s out in space he can make guys miss, he’s quick, he does a good job catching the ball.”
But the team’s first-round pick may fall into the same boat as Sanders, with the possibility of him earning too big a role on offense to handle returning duties too.
“We’ll kind of balance all that stuff with what his role is on offense,” Fipp said. “Obviously I think that’s an evolving situation there so we’re just going to have to monitor that and how much we try to ask of him and use him, but he’s definitely a possibility at kick return. But to say he’s going to be the guy right now, I couldn’t do that for you.”
Like Reagor, Hightower proved himself as a returner in college. Unlike Reagor, Hightower’s primarily returned kickoffs, averaging 24.6 yards per return on 14 attempts last season. The former Boise State receiver scored a 98-yard touchdown on a return against Portland State last year.
If the fifth-round pick makes the 53-man roster, he could be a solid candidate for kickoffs, especially considering it would take quite an impressive training camp for him to see many snaps on offense early in the season.
Clement has assumed the returner spot in the past, but has finished each of the last two seasons on injured reserve since his promising rookie campaign in 2017.
Still, he returned kicks for the Eagles early last season, and Fipp said the staff still uses his film as teaching tape in special teams meetings.
“When he’s been healthy he’s been really a great special teams player for us,” Fipp said. “We put together a lot of cut ups and a lot of film of examples of guys doing things really well in the past so that players can watch those, and he’s on a bunch of those films, just examples of how to play plays and situations for us. ... I know he’s really motivated right now and we can’t wait to get him out there.”
How do the rookie wideouts look? Who’s the early favorite to start at corner opposite of Slay? — from Bobby Gleason (@BobbyGleason24) on Twitter.
Great question, Bobby. First off, the team hasn’t really started actual practices yet, so we won’t know how they look for a few more weeks. Beat reporters should be able to watch practices in the next week or two, so we’ll have a better idea of how they look then.
The early favorite for the second corner spot will be really interesting to watch. If I had to guess before training camp, I’d go with Avonte Maddox. At 5-foot-9, 184 pounds, he’s definitely undersized to be a full-time outside corner, but Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was effusive in his praise of the 24-year-old last week. Plus Maddox has some experience playing on the outside and he’s got the positional versatility the Eagles value so highly in the secondary.