Improving special teams has been the number one priority for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. Despite the fact that both offense and defense adopted new schemes and strategies, special teams were the weak spot of Philadelphia last year.
Chip Kelly values special teams a lot and the Eagles’ final roster for the 2013 season was decided with this in mind. Kelly was very straightforward about that:
“Any backup spot is all the value of special teams,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to be a backup player here, you’re going to be on teams.” (from Philly.com)
Once free agency opened, the Eagles made sure they signed players who would help them in this part of the game. Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman were brought in. Both of them are very experienced and very good special-teams players. Darren Sproles and Malcolm Jenkins have also contributed as ST-players and Nolan Carroll was a gunner for the Miami Dolphins.
Philadelphia also re-signed Donnie Jones, who was excellent in his punting duties in 2013.
Jaylen Watkins, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft can also play in special teams. He and Carroll are the favorites for the two gunner spots in the punt coverage unit.
They Eagles also parted ways with Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. Coleman and Anderson were among those who led the team in special-teams snaps. However, they were not as effective and versatile as Chip Kelly would like them to be.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, improving kick and punt coverage is not enough. The Birds need to get better results from their kicker.
Alex Henery was shaky in 2013. While missing five field goals on 28 attempts is not that bad, Henery didn’t inspire confidence when he had to attempt long field goals. When kicking from 40 yards deep or longer, Henery’s scoring ability takes a dip. Last year, he scored eight of 12 attempts and his longest field goal was from 51 yards away.
That’s why the Eagles signed Carey Spear, also known as “Murderleg”, in free agency. While Spear is not the most accurate kicker himself, he scored a 54-yard field goal in 2013 with the Vanderbilt Commodores. The most impressive thing about Spear, though, is that he is not afraid to tackle. Sheil Kapadia did a nice story about Spear on Birds 24/7.
The Eagles have been far from dominant in special teams the last few seasons, but this might change soon. On paper, the Eagles’ special teams in 2014 are better than they were a year ago. This, however, needs to be reflected on the pitch too.