Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp (left) greets tight end James Casey (85) during the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. The Eagles defeated the Raiders 49-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Ok so maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit with this statement. There are a few unknowns right now, mainly new rookie kicker Cody Parkey and the primary return specialists. However, by the end of the season, the NFL and its fans will realize that the Philadelphia Eagles have the NFL’s best special teams unit.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly went on a mission this offseason to improve what was an average special teams unit. His mentality and emphasis on special teams is well-documented, and last year’s unit was certainly not up to par. Kelly wants the Eagles to dominate every game in all three facets: offense, defense, and special teams.
Kelly’s first two special teams improvements came last year when he signed Eagles punter Donnie Jones and Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp. Fipp was a former assistant special teams coordinator for one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Jones was a bit of an unknown who was brought into camp to compete for the roster spot and won it. Jones then went on win the NFL special teams player of the week twice. He also probably won the Eagles some games with his punts. At the very least, he put the defense in a very good situation.
This year, the emphasis on special teams continued. After letting long time Eagles special teams ace Colt Anderson walk in free agency, Kelly went and signed two guys who were just as good for their special teams as Anderson was for the Eagles. Former Seattle Seahawk Chris Maragos and former Houston Texan Bryan Braman were the original big signees of this offseason. They were viewed as guys who would come in and specialize on special teams and greatly improve last year’s unit.
While the signings of Maragos and Braman were both great, what might end up being the best move for special teams occurred last week, when the Eagles traded running back David Fluellen to the Indianapolis Colts for undrafted rookie kicker Cody Parkey.
Last year’s struggles at the kicking position are well-known, especially with Eagles fans. Kicker Alex Henery, after a fine start to his career, struggled with his consistency. Every missed field goal hurts, but when Henery missed the 48-yarder in the wild card game against the New Orleans Saints last year, the writing was on the table.
Parkey, coming in as an unknown, got his shot this week in the fourth week of the preseason. He responded to the opportunity just as Eagles fans everywhere hoped he would. He made three of three field goals, two of which were 54 and 53 yards, both longer than Henery’s career long of 51 yards. While there’s no official word yet on which of the kickers make the team, it has to be Parkey. His kickoffs were consistently deeper than Henery’s and he made two field goals that Henery probably couldn’t.
The Eagles also signed three potential return specialists this offseason. Eagles free agent signee Darren Sproles has had an illustrious career as both a receiving back and return specialist. Third round pick Josh Huff looked very good in his role as a returner in the preseason; Huff had a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Eagles running back Kenjon Barner, for whom they traded a conditional seventh round pick, had experience returning kickoffs and punts for Kelly at Oregon.
All in all, the Eagles have made many moves to benefit the special teams unit. They’ve signed players who specialize in special teams and players who are ready, willing, and able to participate. By the end of the year, we will see the Eagles’s hard work pay off, and their special teams unit will be recognized as the NFL’s best.