It’s just another normal afternoon practice for the Eagles in the Lehigh Valley. On a special teams play, Jeff Owens bursts around an offensive lineman, lunges forward with his hands in the air and blocks… a soccer ball? That’s just one of the creative ways special teams coordinator Bobby April is changing how the Eagles practice this season.
While there were no vuvuzelas being used (thankfully), the Birds have grown accustomed to different equipment – like soccer balls and a mechanical leg. “It’s just a little bit easier, you can go a little bit faster, you just put it on the ground. With a football… you have to set it on a tee, or somebody has to hold it and it just delays it,” said April.
The special teams coordinator mentioned that safety was a concern as well, as the soccer ball is more comfortable to block. That’s the same reason for the mechanical leg, to prevent injury from someone running into the punter.
April’s creativity and enthusiasm make him a catch for the Eagles, according to head coach Andy Reid. “Bobby comes in as one of, if not the top special teams coach in the National Football League. He’s a heck of a special teams coach,” Reid said. “The real good ones are able to teach angles. There’s no place that you’ve got to cover more field than on special teams.”
April came to the Eagles from the Bills, where he spent the last six seasons running their special teams, before the entire staff was released in the offseason. The New Orleans native was twice honored as the special teams coordinator of the year, in 2004 and 2008. April’s units in Buffalo finished atop the league three times according to the rankings compiled by Rick Goselin, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.
April’s success goes well beyond his use of soccer balls and mechanical legs. Observing the 57-year-old during a special teams practice is educational and entertaining. April demands high intensity from his players, frequently stops drills to teach the finer points of special teams and he’s often got a smile on his face.
Even when April is urging his players to put more effort into the practice, it’s not done with anger. It’s loud, sure, but it’s often followed by a smile and a funny phrase emphasizing the point. Over the weekend, April got on his players to push themselves harder, then waved his arm over his head like a lasso and yelled “Cowboy up!”
Head coach Andy Reid hopes his special teams squad does just that this season, under the tutelage of one of the best coordinators in the league.
Training Camp Coverage
ITI’s Ryan Messick will be back at Lehigh University next Thursday, when the Eagles have a mock game scheduled for 10:30 A.M.