The 2007 Eagles' first loss was punctuated by more punt-return mistakes than yards. Their most recent defeat concluded with a missed field goal.

And in the 11 games in between, there hasn't been anything special about the special teams of this 5-8 team.

"It's late in the season," kicker David Akers said. "We should be doing better."

Ever since the gaffe-filled opening-week loss to Green Bay, returners Reno Mahe, J.R. Reed and Correll Buckhalter have caught the ball. They just haven't advanced it very far.

The defensive units seem to lack the kamikaze pile-breaker whose adrenaline alone can disrupt a return.

And Akers, snapper Jon Dorenbos, and holder Sav Rocca still don't reflect the polish of more experienced field-goal units.

No matter where you look, the numbers aren't pretty:

The Eagles' kickoff-return average ranks 26th in the NFL.

Their punt-return average is 20th; their punt-return defense 29th.

Rocca is 21st in punting average, and 28th in net average. Akers is 29th in field-goal accuracy.

The Eagles are even 0 for 2 on two-point conversions.

"Obviously, we are struggling right now," special teamer Nick Graham said, "because everybody says we are."

In this case, however, they seem to be. The Eagles' special teams have been as bad aesthetically as statistically.

What's to blame?

Roster turnover?


A coaching change?

"I'm not saying we couldn't play better," Akers said yesterday before the Eagles began practice for Sunday's game at Dallas. "But we lost a lot of core guys. Young guys have had to come in. Guys are replacing starters and moving back and forth. It's hard to get continuity that way."

Three of the standouts from 2006 - Omar Gaither, Sean Considine and Quintin Mikell - have played little. Gaither and Considine became starters, and Mikell, who has filled in for long stretches at safety, has been hindered by a knee injury.

"When we were really dominant as a special-teams unit, we had the same group of guys for a while," Akers said. "When you're able to have that core, those guys who are there each and every week, it makes it a lot easier for everyone."

Though players denied it, the switch in special-teams coaches appears to have created a lengthy period of adjustment.

John Harbaugh, the special-teams coach for seven years, left the position this season to guide the Eagles' defensive backs. He has been replaced by Rory Segrest, Harbaugh's quality-control assistant a year ago.

Players said that while the schemes had not changed much under Segrest, the coaching style had. Harbaugh was edgy and intense. Segrest is more laid-back.

"As far as X's and O's go, no, there hasn't been much of a change," Akers said. "Harbaugh was [Segrest's] mentor. I'd say, personality-wise, though, [Segrest] is a little different. He's a slow-taking Southern guy. But he's still a great guy, a guy that can figure out where our guys should be."

It also hasn't helped that the one returning special-teams star, Mikell, hasn't been much help this season.

Mikell "was a big-time special-teams player for us, one of the best in the league," said Joselio Hanson, a cornerback and special-teams player. "It's hard to focus on special teams as much as you should when you're starting. When you're playing more, you have a lot more things to think about."

Coach Andy Reid said that despite what the statistics told him, he was pleased with the special-teams' progress since the Green Bay game.

"Rory has worked very hard with the guys," Reid said. "Players have put a lot of effort in making sure we improve in those areas on special teams. I think we've done that."

The Eagles' longest kick return this year has been 35 yards, by Buckhalter. Akers said that on several returns, the Eagles had been one missed block away from breaking a huge one.

But missed blocks may be symptomatic of what's been hindering the Eagles' special teams all season.

"We've been making too many mistakes," Hanson said. "You can't make mistakes out there. You've got to be able to block great and tackle great. And we just haven't done that as good as we have in the past."