Football is game of three phases and no team would ever underestimate the value of special teams, let alone the Philadelphia Eagles. Dave Fipp’s unit hasn’t garnered the reputation as one of the league’s finest by chance. Years of consistency in every aspect of the teams responsibilities have made Philly one of the NFL’s most dangerous special teams teams in the NFL. This season, that reputation could be in jeopardy for no other reason than the amount of depth lost during the offseason.
(The players highlighted in this list bellow with the exception of Corey Graham have all now left the team.)
There is a huge opportunity for the underdogs lost in the depth of positional battles across the roster to really carve their niche on special teams and it should come as no surprise that front-runners have already emerged. It’s very easy in preseason to focus on what we see on offense and defense, but this is such a crucial period for players and coaches alike when it comes to special teams. It could mean the difference between a roster spot and looking for a future elsewhere. So who were the big winners from week one?
Here’s a quick look at the special teams snap count:
Corey Nelson/Joe Walker:
While Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry spent the game slugging it out over outside linebacker reps, Corey Nelson and Joe Walker were grinding on special teams. Interestingly, KGH, who led the Eagles in special teams tackles last year, played in just 10% of snaps. If Grugier-Hill does indeed win a starting role defensively, the Eagles are going to need to replace that level of production.
Although it’s been a quiet offseason for both Nelson and Walker, a path to long-term security could well be proving their worth on special teams. For Nelson, this could’ve been the case all along. During 5 games in 2017, the former Bronco accounted for 4 total tackles before suffering a season-ending injury in practice. He saw 115 special teams snaps in that time.
Nelson may be out of the starting linebacker picture, but don’t count him out of a roster spot just yet…
Josh Adams/Wendell Smallwood:
The Eagles are going to need some return specialists this year and with Smallwood and Adams both seeing over 30% of special teams snaps, it’s a strong sign that both could at least begin carving that niche. Doug Pederson even went as far as to endorse Smallwood’s special teams ability on Saturday.
“He’s a big part of the punt team, the coverage, some of the positions that [Eagles special teams coordinator] Dave [Fipp] has him in.” Pederson explained. “I think he understands that competition is a real thing. It’s making him sort of focus in and dial in. He’s done a really nice job in camp up to this point.”
Douglas may have had a rollercoaster game defensively, but playing in 48% of special teams snaps is a very encouraging sign. The Eagles lost three defensive back special teamers this offseason so adding some extra versatility into the room from a gunner perspective could be the perfect way for Douglas to ensure that regardless of the secondary shootout result, he has a home and a safe roster spot.
Aside from the very-near return error that was saved by Mack Hollins, Gibson had a fantastic game, going on to record his first ever NFL touchdown. What’s even more impressive is that he also dialed in 32% of special teams snaps. It’s looking more and more as though Gibson is a certainty to make the roster. A statement that two months ago would have likely been laughed off by many.
Tre Sullivan/Jeremy reaves:
The return of Corey Graham has put the spanner in the works of this depth Safety battle, so special teams is going to play a monumental role in deciding how many players are kept on in the secondary. Sullivan saw a heavy dose of special teams action, racking up 52% of snaps, while Reaves was involved in 39%. It’s all going to come down to production between these two. Reaves leads the tackling tally 3-2, but Sullivan has a slight edge in special teams involvement. It’s arguable that Reaves has had the more impressive camp, but he’s going to need to really kick up a notch to solidify himself in the rotation.
It’s great to see fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox involved so prominently. Sinking his teeth into special teams this early is only going to help his growth and development. If the Eagles can rely on his hard-hitting nature on special teams, it’s also going to keep him in the rotation and expose him to as much NFL action as possible.
Greg Ward Jr. only played in 10% of special teams snaps which is a little worrying. If he has a realistic shot at making the roster, he’s going to have to hope for a rise in involvement in Fipp’s unit, with such a hefty competition taking place at wide receiver.
Jordan Mailata also got his feet wet on special teams alongside his 32 offensive snaps, which is just awesome to see considering its his first EVER football game.
What did you observe? Let us know in the comments!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports