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Special Teams Need to be More Special

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Despite two explosive rookie returnmen, a veteran kicker and a strong-legged punter, the Eagles special teams were mired in mediocrity a year ago.

That might be why Rory Segrest is now the team’s defensive line coach and Ted Daisher, a former special teams assistant under John Harbaugh, is back in charge of the once top-five unit.

Daisher left the Eagles to first become the Oakland Raiders special teams coach and then moved onto Cleveland under Romeo Crennel.

When the Browns fired their entire staff after last season’s disappointing 4-12, last place in the AFC North finish, Daisher became available and Reid went after him.

“It was a couple of weeks after Romeo was fired,’’ Daisher said. “I was looking at some other places and then Andy called and it happened pretty quickly.’’

Daisher left an Eagles special teams that was consistently among the top five in the league statistically and twice finished No. 1 overall with Harbaugh, now the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, in charge.

“I was here with John in ’04 and ’05,’’ Dasiher said. “He is a very, very good special teams coach. He’s got a lot of knowledge and obviously has done quite well. He taught me a great deal about special teams, a lot of little things, from how to attack schemes to how to deal with people.

“We’re trying to establish things the way they used to be when John was here and when I was here before. We had some very good special teams units. We’re going to do our best to get that established again.’’

The unit he inherits needs some help to get back there.

Last year rookie Quintin Demps was the main kickoff returnman and ranked 15th in the league with an average return of 25.3 yards. Fellow rookie DeSean Jackson handled punt returns and also finished 15th in the league with an average return of 8.8 yards.

That’s right in the middle of the pack.

This year both returnermen could be different.

Ellis Hobbs, who finished second in the league last year with a 28.5 yard average, was acquired from New England in a draft day trade. And wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, a punt returner in college at Missouri, was selected in the first round of the draft.

Daisher says that Demps and Jackson will go to training camp next week at Lehigh University as the No. 1 kickoff and punt returner, but added quickly that could change.

If Demps wins the starting free safety job, Reid has been hesitant to use starters as his returner. And Jackson is almost a lock to start at one wide receiver spot.

“You look around the league and you don’t see too many starters back there,’’ Daisher said.

Hobbs gives the Eagles an obvious choice to replace Demps and Maclin should be able to follow what Jackson did last year as a rookie.

“Hobbs is a terrific returner,’’ Daisher said. “Maclin is a young guy with a lot of potential.’’

The Eagles coverage teams ranked eighth in the league in punt coverage, the highest of any of the special teams units and 16th, or again right in the middle of the league, in kickoff coverage.

Sean Considine, the top point producer in the system the team keeps for its coverage units, left as a free agent to sign with Jacksonville. Tracy White, a key waiver pickup from Green Bay late in the season, returns and should be a key on coverage.

As far as the kicking game goes, David Akers returns for his 11th year as the team’s placekicker, the longest tenure of any kicker in team history, and Australian Sav Rocca comes back for his third year as the team’s punter.

Akers, once the premier kicker in the NFC, connected on 82.5 percent (33-for-40) of his field goal attempts last year, which ranked just 23rd in the league. He was 10-for-15 from 40 yards and beyond, which also ranked 23rd best.

Rocca, who can hit them as deep as any punter in the league, still lacks consistency. Last year he ranked 19th in the league in gross average at 43.3 yards per punt and tied for 13th in net, at 38.4 yards. He put 31.2 percent of his punts inside the 20 yardline, which was 18th best in the league.

Add it up and the Eagles finished in the top 10 in just one statistical category last year. That’s not good enough. And it’s why Segrest is coaching the defensive linemen.

 

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