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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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