Training Camp is hours away for the Philadelphia Eagles. As soon as the Sun rises, it’s grind time for the defending Super Bowl champions. Camp is always intense in the City of Brotherly Love, especially with so many players vying to make the roster and start a new chapter. The natural inclination for those whose entire NFL future rests on the shoulders of what happens during the next few weeks, is to shine on special teams when preseason rolls around. For this group of men however, it presents a truly unique opportunity.
Football is been a game of three phases and underestimating the impact of special teams would be silly for any player or team. For the Eagles, it is a cog just as crucial to their team’s success as their offense or defense and that’s something that isn’t lost on Doug Pederson.
“Special teams is a big part of what we do.” The Super Bowl winning Head Coach told reporters. “It’s a third of everything, offense, defense and special teams, and we don’t take that for granted. We’ve got to have guys step up. We played a lot of young guys on special teams last year, which is great going into this season, obviously. And by acquiring some of the free agents and some of the drafted players over the last couple of seasons, they’re really going to be in a position to contribute on special teams and make us a better teams unit and area, that, yeah, we do need to get better in.”
Clearly an area of priority for the team as it has been for quite some time, the Eagles Special Teams unit has long been revered as one of, if not the most, prolific int he NFL. Dave Fipp has done an extraordinary job in sustaining success throughout adversity. Whether it’s Kamu Grugier-Hill taking kickoffs, players stepping in as emergency Long Snappers, or a flurry of blocked efforts, the team have a dangerous reputation, or at least they did in recent years.
Free agency has ripped through Fipp’s unit like a Tornado and has shown little mercy in taking away key components from his established unit. Of the 114 special teams tackles made, players who accounted for 55 of them are no longer with the team.
While the Eagles have added some names in place of those who have departed, there are some big names who stand out as exceptions. Established veterans and proven special teamers have either been replaced by undrafted talent, or cheaper free agent equivalents. In the case of Mychal Kendricks and Najee Goode, that man was Paul Worrilow. A veteran with an extensive special teams background, the Pro Bowler looked to be the perfect addition to a linebacker corps low on depth…until he tore his ACL during OTA’s.
As for Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham, the Eagles brought in undrafted free agent Jeremy Reaves, who will be licking his lips at an opportunity to shine on special teams. The former High School running back delivers thunderous hits and is a likely candidate to take on a key role in Fipp’s unit if he can break onto the roster.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Fipp’s now much-lighter unit however as they do have one big name returning. Veteran running back Darren Sproles has long been known for his lightning speed on kick returns and with one more year in the tank, he will be used heavily in that role.
“[For] Darren, obviously special teams is huge.” Pederson said earlier this year. “Punt returns are huge. The chance to not only score, but to flip the field and put us in some favorable field position situations, so that’s a big role for him.”
With that said, Sproles will be hanging up the cleats after this season, which again leaves a wide open door for the next of kin to walk through and show what they can do. With such a drastic change in the unit, Fipp will be looking at who wants it most. Who is going to go above and beyond to make an impact? Which of the guys who maybe couldn’t carve a starting or depth role at their positions, can harness that energy and fuel special teams success?
One would assume that the roster of Super Bowl Champions would be the hardest to break onto. But if the right player can play the right card and approach Special Teams with as much drive and energy as possible, it may actually be the perfect blessing in disguise.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports