Jake Elliott was reminded this week of something every NFL kicker knows: theirs is a pretty sweet gig — unless you get hurt.
There was no mistaking the relief Elliott felt Friday as he stood in front of reporters and recounted how he recovered from the concussion he suffered Sunday night at Dallas. Elliott completed the NFL concussion protocol and is scheduled to kick for the Eagles Sunday against the visiting Bears.
"I felt a little bit better the following day. I'd say about two or three days after, I started feeling more and more like myself," said Elliott, who said he was able to kick as much Wednesday and Thursday as he normally would in preparing for a game.
The thing about kicking is, the money is really good, and there's not a lot of exertion involved. You don't spend hours poring over video clips of the opponent. The downside, though, is that the team's investment in you is as limited as your role. This is something Caleb Sturgis discovered when he tore a hip flexor in the season opener. Suddenly, the job Sturgis won from Cody Parkey, when Parkey got hurt in 2015, was being performed by Elliott, a rookie signed off the Bengals' practice squad after Sturgis went down.
Elliott went on to hit a franchise-record five field goals from 50 yards or more, including a 61-yard game-winner against the Giants, and nobody talked much about Sturgis as he rehabbed.
This week, though, Sturgis' name returned to the news. If Elliott hadn't recovered by the end of the week, the Eagles would have had to make a roster move to bring Sturgis back from IR, and once Sturgis was making kicks again, well, who knows? It isn't like changing the quarterback, where every facet of the offense is involved.
But Eagles coach Doug Pederson made it clear by midweek that he expected Elliott to be back to face the Bears, and that Elliott would be the kicker "if he's healthy and can play."
"Obviously, that gives me a little bit of confidence, just knowing that they're kind of behind me," Elliott said. He is under contract through next season, with a low $550,000 cap hit for 2018. Sturgis, making $900,000 this year, will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Elliott indicated he knows how much reassurances are worth. "Like I've [said] from the start, it's kind of a day-to-day business. You've got to perform every day," he said.
Elliott was injured when he threw himself at Dallas returner Ryan Switzer, stopping Switzer's 61-yard return of the opening kickoff.
"When the hit happened, on the opening kickoff, I was a little bit rattled. I'd never had a concussion before, that was my first one. I didn't feel too loopy right at the time, but as the first quarter went on, I just kind of started to get worse and worse," Elliott said.
"That final play when I was in there was kind of a little bit of a haze, and I decided to go seek someone out after that, just felt that was the best decision, and the coaches were all about that."
His final play was a missed 34-yard field goal attempt, wide right, on the next-to-last snap of the first quarter. Elliott had kicked an extra point and kicked off before missing the field goal. Did the concussion cause the miss?
"I'm not going to make an excuse," said Elliott, who said that he "definitely felt a little bit out of it on that play," and that he made the right decision to see medical help.
The sequence of events shows how hard it is to keep concussed players from continuing to play, even with league-mandated concussion spotters and the blue tent for sideline evaluating. When Carson Wentz took a blow to the chin in the first half of the Dallas game, everybody at AT&T Stadium and everyone watching at home saw it. Wentz went right away to the blue tent, was tested, and returned. On replay of the opening kickoff, it seemed obvious Elliott banged heads with Switzer, but apparently, the concussion-spotting folks didn't see it.
If he has to make another tackle, Elliott, who is listed at 5-9, 167, said he planned to "definitely get a little bit lower. Probably go for the legs a little bit more."
"He kind of lowered his head on me at the last second there – I just didn't see that coming. Just got to get a little lower."
With Elliott out, the Eagles went for two points four times after scoring touchdowns, converting three times. The fourth try was working, as well, but Zach Ertz fumbled as he was about to cross the goal line. The Eagles didn't need to try a field goal, in what became a 37-9 rout, and special-teams linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill picked up kickoff duties, managing one touchback.
Elliott said he was "sitting in a dark room watching [the two-pointers]," and was heartened to seem them.
What did he think of Grugier-Hill's form?
"Pretty good. Pretty good," Elliott said. "I know he got a lot of love all over Twitter and everything. He did a good job stepping up."
Neither Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen (knee tendinitis) nor tight end and special-teams standout Trey Burton (back spasms) practiced this week and both are listed as questionable. Tight end Zach Ertz said he thinks Burton will be able to play. If not, Brent Celek will take on a bigger role, and Isaac Seumalo probably will get a few more snaps as an extra tight end in running situations. Linebacker Nate Gerry would add more special-teams responsibilities.