Chip Kelly’s Amazing Special Teams

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Fans will not find football players listed on official rosters as gunners, wings or kick return blockers, but Chip Kelly went out of his way to ensure the Philadelphia Eagles have quality players at those positions. Newcomers Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, Trey Burton and Darren Sproles are just a few of the players behind the transformation of the Eagles’ special teams into an elite unit. Meanwhile, former Oregon Ducks like Brandon Bair and Casey Matthews have made a noticeable impact of their own on special teams plays.

Last year, Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp‘s unit failed to score a touchdown and was the only team in the NFL to allow two kick return touchdowns. With new personnel at his disposal, Fipp coaches a special teams unit that has scored four touchdowns this season after just six games.

Chris Polk‘s 102-yarder was the Eagles’ first touchdown on a kickoff return since 2008. The key to this score, however, came from the other 10 players who blocked for Polk.

Casey Matthews (furthest to the right on the 50-yard line) and Emmanuel Acho (second furthest to the right on the 50-yard line) are assigned to make a key double-team block.

From Video

Casey Matthews (farthest to the right on the 50-yard line) and Emmanuel Acho (second-farthest to the right on the 50-yard line) were assigned to make a key double-team block.

Acho and Matthews make their block.

From Video

Acho and Matthews made their block.

Burton (#47) and Brandon Graham (#55) pull to the right to give Polk (#32) and lead blocker Brad Smith (#16) a hole to run through.

From Video

Burton (No. 47) and Brandon Graham (No. 55) pulled to the right to give Polk (No. 32) and lead blocker Brad Smith (No. 16) a hole to run through.

Zach Ertz (#86) and James Casey (#85) sealed their men, while Smith takes out another coverage man. Acho and Matthews hold their block, giving Polk a one-on-one matchup against the Washington Redskins kicker.

From Video

Zach Ertz (No. 86) and James Casey (No. 85) sealed their men, while Smith took out another coverage man. Acho and Matthews held their block, giving Polk a one-on-one matchup against the Washington Redskins kicker.

Polk eludes the kicker, allowing him to get the touchdown. Matthews and Smith shield him off from the coverage men in pursuit.

From Video

Polk eluded the kicker and scored the touchdown. Matthews and Smith shielded him off from the coverage men in pursuit.

Although Eagles fans fondly remember DeSean Jackson‘s punt return touchdowns, it is easy to overlook his tendency last year to run backwards and his hesitation to hit holes, which cost him yardage on multiple occasions. The other punt returner last year, Damaris Johnson, was prone to muffing the punt and turning the ball over.

Sproles has been a more efficient punt returner for the Eagles due to his decisiveness and hard-nosed running style. Against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4, Sproles took a punt return to the house.

Sproles (#43) catches the punt deep in Eagles territory.

From Video

Sproles (No. 43) caught the punt deep in Eagles territory.

Malcolm Jenkins (#27, far right on the Eagles' 40-yard line) makes a crucial block that opens up a lane. Chris Maragos (#42, on the Eagles' 30-yard line) seals off a 49ers defender.

From Video

Malcolm Jenkins (No. 27, far right on the Eagles’ 40-yard line) made a crucial block that opened up a lane. Chris Maragos (No. 42, on the Eagles’ 30-yard line) sealed off a 49ers defender.

Smith (on the Eagles' 30-yard line, near the sideline) keeps Sproles untouched.

From Video

Smith (on the Eagles’ 30-yard line, near the sideline) kept Sproles untouched.

Only the 49ers punter remains in Sproles's path, but Polk hustles downfield to make the final block.

From Video

Only the 49ers’ punter remained in Sproles’s path, but Polk hustled downfield to make the final block.

While blocking on special teams has given the returners opportunities for touchdowns, poor blocking by the Eagles’ opponents has allowed the punt block unit to score two touchdowns this season.

The Eagles offense scored 0 points against the 49ers, but the punt block team helped keep them afloat in the first quarter.

From Video

The Eagles offense scored 0 points against the 49ers, but the punt block team helped keep them afloat in the first quarter.

Braman (#56) attacks the right shoulder of the 49ers long snapper (#86). The long snapper is slow out of his stance, so the 49ers right guard (#51) helps block Braman. This opens up an opportunity for Burton, who runs through the B-gap.

From Video

Braman (No. 56) attacked the right shoulder of the 49ers’ long snapper (No. 86). The long snapper was slow out of his stance, so the 49ers’ right guard (No. 51) helped block Braman. This opened an opportunity for Burton, who ran through the B-gap.

The 49ers long snapper fails to secure a block, allowing Braman and Burton to take on the right guard in a two-on-one battle.

From Video

The 49ers’ long snapper failed to secure a block, which allowed Braman and Burton to take on the right guard in a two-on-one battle.

The right guard has to pick his poison, so he chooses to block Braman. Burton comes free at the punter and the result is a blocked punt picked up by Smith in the endzone for a touchdown.

From Video

The right guard had to pick his poison, so he chose to block Braman. Burton came free at the punter and the result was a blocked punt picked up by Smith in the endzone for a touchdown.

Just one week later, the Eagles’ punt block team struck again. On the first drive of the game, it attacked the St. Louis Rams and scored six more points.

Keep an eye on Casey (across from #48 of the Rams), Braman (across from #97), Burton (outside shoulder of #53), and Maragos (across from #38).

From Video

Keep an eye on Casey (across from No. 48 of the Rams), Braman (across from No. 97), Burton (outside shoulder of No. 53) and Maragos (across from No. 38).

#97 helps the long snapper with Braman, while Casey comes free at the personal protector (#34). Maragos slants at #53, so he and Burton can double-team him.

From Video

No. 97 helped the long snapper with Braman, while Casey came free at the personal protector (No. 34). Maragos slanted at No. 53, so he and Burton could double-team him.

Casey and Burton are both coming at the personal protector, who is forced to pick his poison.

From Video

Casey and Burton both came at the personal protector, who was forced to pick his poison.

The personal protector blocks Burton, allowing Casey to block the punt.

From Video

The personal protector blocked Burton, allowing Casey to block the punt.

Jenkins gets in front of the ball to get ready to shield Maragos from the Rams players.

From Video

Jenkins moved in front of the ball to get ready to shield Maragos from the Rams players.

Maragos runs free for the touchdown.

From Video

Maragos ran free for the touchdown.

Four special teams touchdowns in six games is an incredible feat, but Fipp’s units don’t just make a difference with their scoring plays. The season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a showcase of little special teams plays that went a long way.

Bair, a former Oregon defensive lineman, blocked a field goal in the second quarter to prevent the Jaguars from taking a 20-point lead.

Keep an eye on Bair (#93, lined up between the left guard and left tackle).

From Video

Keep an eye on Bair (No. 93, lined up between the left guard and left tackle).

Bair uses his 6'7" height to knock the ball down.

From Video

Bair used his 6’7″ height to knock the ball down.

Another outstanding special teams play in this game came from Brandon Boykin, a gunner on the punt team. His awareness and athleticism helped the Eagles pin the Jacksonville Jaguars at their own 1-yard line.

Boykin (#22, lower right, at the Jaguars' 40-yard line) at right gunner.

From Video

Boykin (No. 22, lower right, at the Jaguars’ 40-yard line) at right gunner.

Boykin initially makes a quick step to the left.

From Video

Boykin initially made a quick step to the left.

Boykin jukes and sprints to the right of the Jaguars player.

From Video

Boykin juked and sprinted to the right of the Jaguars player.

Boykin outruns his opponent and gets a clean path to track the football.

From Video

Boykin outran his opponent and found a clean path to track the football.

Punter Donnie Jones (#8) made a beautiful punt which fell to the 1, and Boykin holds his balance just long enough to catch the ball.

From Video

Donnie Jones (No. 8) made a beautiful punt which fell to the 1, and Boykin held his balance just long enough to catch the ball.

Boykin puts the ball down at the 1 right before he falls into the endzone, allowing his teammates to pick it up.

From Video

Boykin put the ball down at the 1 right before he fell into the endzone, allowing his teammates to pick it up.

Too many football teams overlook the value of good special teams units, but Philadelphia is certainly not one of them. The return on investing in quality special teams players is high, and it has arguably been the difference in several of the Eagles’ wins this season.

Top photo from video

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Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns is a senior at the Pennsylvania State University majoring in Economics. He intends to pursue a career in the banking and financial services industries, but is also a lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan who enjoys analyzing college and pro football film as a hobby. Along with being a fan, Joe's football knowledge comes from his days as a center, defensive tackle, and long snapper for his high school in Mt. Lebanon, Pa. Though he is a Nittany Lion, he has taken a great interest in the Oregon football team since Chip Kelly became the Eagles head coach. He loves pancakes ( and not just the breakfast food).