Over the last two seasons, the Eagles have had a grand total of ONE kick return that went for more than 33 yards. That is beyond pathetic, and should be an area where the Eagles will almost certainly be better in 2013. Last night against the Panthers, the Eagles showed signs of life in the kick return game.
The Eagles only had two opportunities to return kicks, and I'll show them both:
This is a subtle thing, but look at where Johnson is postioned. On the kick, he backtracked to a spot 9 yards deep:
Watch as the ball is coming down. Johnson times it so that he's fielding the ball on the run, giving him some added momentum as he begins his return:
That little difference in catching the ball on the run, as opposed to to catching it while leaning on your back foot can be huge. It could be the difference between hitting a hole and breaking a long return, or having that hole close before you get there. Far too often last season, Eagles returners were fielding the ball on their back foot.
On the return itself, Johnson gets a couple good blocks from Zach Ertz and James Casey (circled), and the retun goes for 30 yards:
Aside from some good fundamentals, there was really nothing special about this return at all, but it would have been one of the best returns of the year in 2012. It's incredible what a difference some good fundamentals can make.
Boykin isn't quite as good as Johnson in terms of getting forward momentum when fielding the kick, but he still does a good enough job at it. Note Boykin's feet. He's not on the run as he fields it, but he is not on his heels either. He's up on his toes, and moving forward:
That's an improvement from last year for Boykin..
The return is set up to go to the right:
But the Panthers' backside support overpursues:
Boykin sees that and abandons the design of the return to run to daylight:
Great awareness there from Boykin, and now he has all kinds of open space with which to operate. He jukes a Panther defender:
And this return gets out past the 40.
That's two returns for Damaris Johnson an Brandon Boykin of 30 and 41 yards, respectively. The last two years, you weren't missing anything if you took a bathroom break during kick returns. This year you might.