Make ‘em Special

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 48 Comments »

The Eagles offense was dynamic in 2013. The defense started very slow, but did have a really good extended run later in the season. Remember all the games of holding teams to 21 points or less?

What’s missing? Special teams.

I wrote for PE.com about the need for this group to get better this season and in the future.

STs wasn’t a disaster or anything like that. Fans need to go back to a season like 1995 to truly see dreadful STs play. The problem is that the Eagles were only so-so. Some things they did well, others they did not. Great teams can get away with being inconsistent on STs. The Eagles are good, but not great. They must have improved STs play if the team is going to become a legit title contender.

This isn’t just about having a better PK. The whole unit must get better.

Remember the early teams of the Reid years? You had Ike Reese and Dameane Douglas as the best guys. Je’Rod Cherry was good for a year. Sean Morey was a key STer for 2 years. Quintin Mikell joined the team in 2003 and became the best of the cover guys. Jason Short was memorable in 2004.

Even Brian Westbrook was good at covering punts and kickoffs as a rookie. He showed big potential as a RS and RB so the Eagles took  him off the coverage units after his rookie season.

John Harbaugh did a terrific job of running the unit and getting players to understand how important STs play is. No one slacked. Those guys took pride in what they did. They worked to be excellent. And the Eagles developed talent. Mike Bartrum was one of the best snappers in the league. Koy Detmer became a great holder. David Akers became a great kicker. Brian Mitchell was already a dynamic RS and he helped Westbrook to follow in his footsteps.

Dave Fipp didn’t set the world on fire in 2013, but it is hard to say how much of that is on him and how much is on the players he had to work with. Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman have added talent to the pool so Fipp needs to produce better results this season.

I think Chris Maragos and Darren Sproles could be huge additions for him. Maragos seems like a natural STs leader. He knows he’s not Brian Dawkins, but Maragos is confident in who and what he is. He gets the big picture and is very professional in the way he approaches his job. He’s not afraid to speak up when needed. Sproles is a veteran RS who can help teach the other returners, but also work with the blockers. The return game has been an issue for several years.

As for Henery…we’ll just have to see how he does this year. Carey Spear has been disappointing, but maybe his presence had the desired effect and got Henery’s attention. Henery must do a better job or he’ll be out of a job. He’s no longer a young kicker being groomed for the future. He must do a good job. And he’s now worked with Fipp for more than a year so they are both on the same page.

Let’s see if the Special Teams can become…dare I say…special.

_


  • Mike Roman

    Tommy channeled his inner-Dave Spadaro to mention how great of a holder Koy Detmer was. I want to punch myself in the nuts.

    • Bert’s Bells

      Let Koy tee it up and you’ll punch it straight through the uprights.

    • Maggie

      “Maragos was also Wisconsin’s placekicking holder for extra points and field goals. During a 2009 road game against Ohio State, he scored a touchdown at that position on a fake field goal attempt.”

    • TommyLawlor

      Koy was great on fake FGs back in the early years. That gave him extra value as a holder.

      • Mike Roman

        Maybe I’m wrong but I just never got the “great holder” concept. 32 teams have holders. There’s a bad hold here and there throughout each season but I can’t recall many times where someone would say, “that holder sucks!”. Nothing against Koy, it just used to annoy the hell out of me that Spadaro was always talking about it.

    • eagleyankfan

      I was laughing at that too.

  • Ark87

    Maragos seems like a great guy. He talks and acts in a way that is military-esque, he must come from a military family. Just seems extremely professional and motivated. It’s good to have a veteran like that on the team. Especially for the bottom half of the roster, like here’s the type of guy that stays in the league longer than average without top round talent, getting it done on special teams and now has a Superbowl ring to cap it off. Emulate this guy!

    • GEAGLE

      Seems like a cool cat to have a beer with….like the highlight of him stripping the kickoff return man….

      Nolan Carroll is also a quality man…like Wolff, Nolan comes from military family

      • Sb2bowl

        Reminds me a lot of the early to mid Andy Reid years, where ‘vets were HAPPY to come here and sign with us; we had a first class (I’ll leave out the ‘Gold Standard’ crap) organization, and its nice to recapture that feeling (and hopefully reputation around the league).

        I think part of the reason why Nolan has stood out so far in OTA’s is because he’s happy, and thus, dare I say trying harder? Yes, I know these guys are “pro’s”…. but think about your job situation. Come to your job day after day, year after year, knowing it is a dumpster fire, and you can’t do a thing to change it. Now, imagine if another company comes calling, offering you a similar (but slightly greater) salary, but they are LIGHT YEARS ahead of your current employer. What would you do? How would that effect your performance? I think coming to Philly gave him a breath of fresh air, and he’s going to show his gratitude by his play this year.

        • GEAGLE

          All true….. It’s one thing tho to hear how awesome it is at Novacare from returning players and new guys like Nolan who are used to crap like Miami’s poorly run organization but it’s really exciting to see players from successful organizations be Impressed by the environment Chip has managed to create,, one would expect Nolan to be excited after spending 4 years in Miami…but Sproles, Jenkins and maragos enthusiasm for what we have going at Novacare is what really pumps me up…

          • Sb2bowl

            Yup– excellent points. Sproles and Jenkins just beat us in a play off game, and they got beat by Maragos’ team…. you gotta think that they are excited to help our team get over the hump and make some noise this season.

            I know that Jenkins has taken Wolff under his wing, but I’m really excited to have Nate Allen back– I think the kid has skills, but the injury and then the coaching SNAFU really messed with his game and confidence. I’m hoping that, with having the same coach for 2 years in a row, he will think less, play more, and thus be even more productive.

          • GEAGLE

            Hey certainly can’t rule out a kid who has never played the same defense two years in a row taking a big leap. Continuity is HUGE and grossly under,rated by fans and media. The Wolff vs. Nate battle should push both players to new heights, and the winner of that battle will be us fans, because w,no matter who wins that battle, expecting to see all 3 safeties in every game…Billy wanted to use 3 safeties last year and we only had a competent safety and a half lol..exciting def think Billy Davis will us3 if they are looking good.

            Originally I worried bout Nate being a surprise cut! but I think I was wrong and his place is safe. Wish Howie would have negotiated a team option for a second year in case he Improves significantly…

            Now I’m expecting Brandon Graham to be the surprise cut, which would suck because we could use his pass rush while Marcus develope

          • Sb2bowl

            I think B.Graham is gone, simply because he doesn’t offer much in the way of special teams, and its probably a better option to keep younger players with more upside, especially considering Graham is in the last year of his contract. With Vinny stepping his game up (patience in 2 gap scheme, ability to destroy the OL on his way to the QB), I think (I know they don’t play the same position in base D) they are similar enough in the Nickel look that they become redundant.

            Speaking of our Nickel D– won’t it be nice to actually have one this year? I’m a fan of 3 safety looks, especially with versatility; Watkins could be another chess piece next year, with his ability to play S and the CB position. I think Williams takes a pay cut to stick around next year, and it wouldn’t bother me to have Fletch re-sign (same with Nate) during the year. Our style of press CB’s really fits the strengths of Cary and Fletch, with Nolan and Watkins ready to go when needed. I love the (at least on paper) depth and quality of players brought in this year, especially considering its only YEAR 2 of the program!

            Oh, speaking of Graham– I think (the) Braman (Bull) would be a better asset to hold on to over Graham. Better size (Chip likes), ST availability (Chip likes), cost effective (Howie likes), better “natural” OLB prospect (fans like!)……. to me, it makes sense to keep the Bull over Graham; wish him the best, and maybe we could get a 6th from someone who runs a 4-3 D during training camp…otherwise, he’s gone.

    • Maggie

      “Maragos redshirted at Western Michigan in 2005, where he played as a wide receiver. The first player to introduce himself to Maragos was senior wide receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings became somewhat of a mentor to Maragos, teaching him the intricacies of excelling as a collegiate wide receiver and giving him rides to church on Sundays. Maragos transferred to Wisconsin and sat out a year (due to NCAA transfer rules) before resuming play in 2008.

      During this time, Maragos was converted to defense, where he became a standout free safety. In two years with the Badgers he recorded five interceptions and 94 tackles. Maragos had six passes defensed in his 2009 senior season, including one that helped end a comeback attempt by Northern Illinois.

      He was also Wisconsin’s placekicking holder for extra points and field goals. During a 2009 road game against Ohio State, he scored a touchdown at that position on a fake field goal attempt.”

      • Ark87

        Pretty neat background, unfortunately like so many college heroes,he went undrafted. You can’t even find his spider chart on Mockdraftables. Given that, his biggest football accomplishment has definitely been making it to his second contract in this league, by far.

        • Maggie

          I was kind of noting that he played an important role on STs as well.

  • GEAGLE

    While maragos and Soroles are big time ST additions, we also have some other new faces who should really help this ST unit develop into one of the best in the league.
    ..
    Howie talks about Braman having some ridiculously insane 40 time, and takes great pride in playing ST like a lunatic…
    ..
    Jason Phillips was supposed to be a big ST addition. Looking forward to adding him to the mix.
    .,,
    Nolan will probably replace Roc and pair with Boykin as a high quality gunner tandem..

    I’m assuming Ed Reynolds make this roster and adds some OOMPH to the ST

    While James Casey and Polk will continue to bring the Ruckus on ST(really nice ST year they had in 2014) looking forward to us replacing BG with the more athletic Marcus Smith on ST

    I’m really expecting a drastically improved ST unit. We simply put too much emphasis Into improving this unit for it to remain the status quo..

    I expect our coverage units to be among the leagues best(when Alex is hitting the ball well on kickoffs)…but I’m really curious to find out, what type of improvements we will see blocking for our return men?
    ..
    1) Maragos
    2) Braman
    3) Nolan
    4) j Phillips
    5) James Casey
    6) Polk
    7) Brad smith
    8) Marcus Smith (replacing BG)
    9) Ed Reynolds
    10) Brandon Boykin

    That’s a pretty bad ass special teams personnel. I’m confident saying that on paper it’s probably the best we have had since before Bobby “mr potato head” April.

    • Ark87

      Don’t forget we had Williams and Fletcher covering kickoffs, they instantly had an impact, though it did have 1 more critical breakdown in the playoffs, but nothing like the Lions game.

      • GEAGLE

        Love them!!! But I think we were seeing them play because our team depth STUNK and bad depth typically equals bad special teams…

        I think this is the deepest Eagles roster in YEARS. Last year injuries to a starter like Meco or Barwin would have been an insurmountable disaster. Andy Reid typically didn’t have the strongest backups.. Feel like he consistently wasted roster spots where as I get the impression ONLY being able to carry 53 players drives Chip crazy..
        ..
        Team depth was probably the main improvement we needed to make this offseason, and I’m really pleased with how much deeper this team was than last year. looks like this roster will be significantly more difficult to make then last years…typically a by product of improved depth is improved special teams..

        So while Cary and Brad were nice additions to our ST units, I could see us try to move away from using defensive and offensive starters on ST this year, since It seems like we emphasized adding backups who are quality special team players…,3 ways to make a Chip roster: special teams,special teams, special teams….sooner or later that motto will manifest itself into a top ST unit!
        ..
        If Wolff doesn’t beat out Nate, I wonder if we put his super athleticism on display on special teams? Tho I do expect us to use 3 safeties in each game

  • GEAGLE

    I have some questions:

    1) How much longer can we count on Dorenbos? Feel like he has been here forever and I have no idea how long a long snapper typically lasts..

    2) I expect us to improve enough to be a top special teams “coverage unit”..but I have NO idea what level of improvement we will see in the blocking for return men….Is the personnel for the coverage team typically the same personnel used on the return teams?
    ..
    Donnie Longball!was talking about Working on a new punt this offseason…philly.com had an article about it yesterday..some weird knuckle ball punt technique or something that he was using to nail coffin kicks yesterday. Awesome to see the best punter in the game continue to work to add to his craft…. I propose that we no longer talk about Donnie Longball in terms of special teams… He is such a valuable weapon that he is practically part of our defense lol
    ..
    Donnie Longball/Boykin/Nolan Carrol will be a FORCE this year when we are punting,,,

    Btw, think it’s a great sign that the coaches think enough of Jaylen Watkins to have him learn both the slot and outside CB positions. Typically they don’t want to put too much on a rookies plate. But they have Jaylen already learning both positions…

    • Ark87

      Yeah, given the reason they won’t let Boykin even sniff the outside position because it would hinder his development as a slot cb.

      • GEAGLE

        I prefer keeping him in the slot (i guess I’m one of the few)

        • Ark87

          as long as we’re willing to pay him. Or else someone will pay the man good money to play in the outside with the number’s he’s putting up

          • GEAGLE

            Don’t see this being an issue…Howie loves Boykin…they still rave about how nervous they were hoping Boykin would be available on the 4th… Howie has been clearing cap space for that 2012 class for years now…a big part of how we operate is making sure we can sign the players we draft and develop…
            ..
            I don’t see The Eagles losing a good player and good team mate that they Drafted… 28yr old Corey Graham got 16mil from the bills to be a slot CB this offseason,
            .,
            Boykin seems like one of Howies favorites, and every time they have to justify a move they make using the excuse that they have to have money available to re sign our young studs, Boykin is usually one of the first names used as an example…

            Worst case,scenario, if we were ever really strapped for cap space they would pay Boykin and go with outside Cbs on rookie contracts…I think Boykin will be one of the first names we see extended as soon as that class is eligible…a team Commited to growing it’s own stars instead of signing them from other teams, is not going to let Boykin walk in free agency
            ..
            Personally, the thought of the eagles losing Boykin has never entered my brain… You don’t lose one of the best on the NFL at his position…..fans can argue that Desean was the best WR we had, but we all know he wasn’t one of the very best in the league, and he was being paid as such,..if Boykin. Is t the best slot in the NFL, he will be soon…we won’t be losing THAT type of player especially when he is a good kid and class act

          • Ark87

            I’ll be a happy camper if it shakes out that way. Conversely though…if we let a(nother) talented young playmaker go because he doesn’t fit…or whatever…berzerk. D-Jax was a punk, so whatever, but still, can’t make a habit of letting difference makers slip away from us. Get it done Howie!

        • Sb2bowl

          I’m with you; if you look at Billy D’s coaching life, he came from a coach that moved Rod Woodson to safety, even though he had just made the Pro-Bowl as a CB. The reasoning was that Woodson would have more opportunities to make plays, since he would be (potentially) closer to the ball/action when compared to out on an island as a cover CB. Woodson went on to be an All-Pro the next year. (Can anyone remind me who the coach was? I’m pretty sure it was before LeBeau got to Pittsburgh again)

          I think this is Billy’s attitude with Boykin– keep him around the action, let your play makers make plays and change the game. Boykin may want to be paid as a top flight CB, but would he be that influential in a game as an outside CB? Hard to say.

        • A_T_G

          I think Boykin in the slot and two of Williams, Carroll, and Fletcher on the outside is the most effective combination. Therefore, that is what we should do.

          Next year, if Boykin on the outside and some combination of two other players is the best arrangement, do it. But, I imagine keeping Boykin in the slot will still be the best.

          When it is time, try to pay him what he is worth. If he leaves because he wants to play on the outside, so be it. The coaches have to put the players where they help the team. Moving a player to a spot because that is what he always aspired to play and you are afraid he will leave is a bad decision. Next, Peters will be saying he always wanted to punt…

          • GEAGLE

            If he is already, it won’t be long before he is the best slot CB in the NFL..I wouldn’t worry about losing him.. People act like it’s still the 70s and a slot CB is a red headed stepchild, when in reality the position has evolved and It’s starting to almost count as a starter…,and slot CBs are starting to get paid…
            .

            As a Slot CB, teams will move their #1 WR in the slot a few times a game, so you better appreciate your slot CB.. Calvin Johnson! Dez Bryant! Brandon marshal, Victor Cruz, Colston, Welker….Your slot CB is going to have to match up with some beasts, not to mention having Bpykin in the slot can also be a weapon as a Blitzer … … Figure we pay Bpykin fairly and by the Time he starts getting paid on his new deal, we will have Jaylen Watkns under 4th round contract for 3 seasons..
            ,,
            When it’s time to spend money we look at how much we are spending on a position as a whole….so whoever it’s time to pay him, we will subtract a contract that’s currently payng more then Boykin is making now…so when Boykn starts making real money, we will subtract Nolan, Cary or Brads contract,from our Cap, and move Jaylen Watkins and his rookie contract up the depth chart..

            I would bet money on the eagles extending Boykin if Vegas offered odds

          • A_T_G

            Yep, agreed. My frustration is with people who want us to move him outside to keep him happy so he doesn’t leave. You play him where he most helps the team.

          • Sb2bowl

            Agreed, and I think he will realize that as well- if he doesn’t, then do we really want him on the team? A player that wants to switch positions (slot to outside CB) simply because he “could” make more $, regardless of his skill at his current position– that to me shows a selfish player, and one that though it would hurt to lose, it would hurt us more to keep.

            Then again, maybe we pay Boykin a combo of slot/Outside CB pay, and he’s more than happy to stick around and see spot duty outside, while being a play maker on the inside. Will be interesting to watch going forward!

    • Mitchell

      In regards to being a top “coverage” unit on special teams: I think, for this team, coverage on kicks is more important because our offense can make up for what we lack in return yardage. We have so many weapons, and play in space that we can break a play at any time, much like a return.

      However, I think ST coverage helps our defense much more by keeping opponents further away from their endzone to start with. I guess it’s covering up one units weakness with another units strength.

      • GEAGLE

        Good points for sure….but there also isn’t a rule that says we can only be good in one of the two areas,,

        Generally how different is the personnel of say the punt coverage team and the kickoff return team? Is it a case where you only see like 3 core special teams guys(like maragos,Braman and Phillips)! That play on all 4 special Teams phases or do you typically see the same 7-9 players that play on all the different phases of special teams?
        .,.
        It’s not a case where our ST completely sucked and we needed 11 new ST players. We had some quality ST players in place already that we Carried over to this year,,,, what’s interesting is to see how differently Chip and Andy Valued ST…Guys who Andy saw as our best ST players(Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman) didn’t seem to impress Chip Kelly much, but he seems to really like James Casey,Polk Brad Smith and what they bring to ST. Casey and Polk were BALLING last year on ST

        • Mitchell

          I regards to returns, I think the biggest need is…. a guy who can actually return kicks. We haven’t had one since Desean used to do it.

          • GEAGLE

            What if we have had capable return guys but our blocking was just pathetic? Chicken or,egg? Lol

          • Mitchell

            Then I hope to see our blocking be fantastic. Fipp has that special kick return formation or whatever it was. Would like to see it put to use.

    • Sb2bowl

      Dorenbos is locked up through 2016, at a cap # of just over $1 million. Currently, he is 33 years old.

      I don’t have an “average life span” of long snappers, but it seems like he can play for quite a while longer, simply because he doesn’t take the beating that other players/positions do. I’m guessing he finishes out his contract (barring something bad happening).

      • Ark87

        I could see us signing like Murder-snap or some such person. One under appreciated part about Dorenbos is he plays an active role in coverage, he gets down the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found a younger snapper that passes muster that is also generally an actual football player (like dorenbos who played linebacker in college).

        • Sb2bowl

          Agreed– with Chip’s fixation on versatility, I could see that position being morphed into a backup position in some other area. The problem with this thinking is that, if “said” starter gets hurt and your long-snapper fills in, and they get hurt, well, you’re down at 2 positions instead of only one. But, the other side of that is, Dorenbos is a long snapper only, and thus “could” be seen as a wasted space because he could back up someone else.

          I think it’s worth having him take up a roster spot. He’s consistent and as you mentioned, he makes plays on the coverage units. I’m glad to have him here, but one day he will magically disappear.

          • A_T_G

            I agree that he is worth a spot. I would imagine the long snapper is just as important as the kicker and punter for making the kicking game reliable.

          • GEAGLE

            My first born son will b the best special team player the world has ever seen. I will be the Joe Jackson/Marinovich of special,teams.

            While every other kid will grow up playing and idolizing the glamour positions like QB, WR. LB, RB…my kid will never be allowed to play offensive and defensive positions… Think about it, no kid has been punting, snapping or kicking FGs since the age of 5…FG kickers don’t start kicking til around the teen years when they figure out they can kick…
            ..
            Starting with Pee Wee football my son will ONLY snap, punt, kickoff and kick FGs…he won’t even be allowed to be a WR in pickup football games…I will be at all the street football games to make sure the kids play with punts and FGs so my son can work on his craft..

            KIDS DONT start working on these skill sets til the teenage years when the football teams need a player to do it, so when you think about it, my son will have a 10 year head start on snapping and kicking..,.while other kids are working on sprinting and doing push ups, I will tailor my sons workout regime to strengthen his kicks and punts..

            A coach who values ST like Chip will love my son..I’m telling you I’m gonna Joe Jackson the shit out of the best special team player the world has ever seen. Haven’t decided on his mother yet…so far, Janikowski’s butch sister is in the lead :)

          • Sb2bowl

            I’ve said the same thing– long snapper is the best position to play (other than kicker/punter) for longevity and an actual “career” in the NFL. Think about it– Dorenbos is 33 years old, has about 2 years left on his contract, and for at least the last 5 years (and next 2) has made around $1 million. He trains with the best athletes in the world, has access to world class facilities and nutrition, and literally plays 15 snaps a game. Yup, sign me up for that life.

        • GEAGLE

          Lol @ murder snap…if Chip doesn’t want to get versatility out of that roster spot, Dorenbos aka Da Boss( as,he is known amongst his Amish mafia community) could probably play or shall I say “snap” into his 40s…

  • ohitsdom

    Maragos is “not afraid to speak up when needed”… He does seem like a solid guy, but what are you basing this statement off of? Don’t recall any stories like this coming out in the short time he’s been with the team.

    • D3FB

      I know Richard Sherman has praised him for being a great guy in the locker room and a great leader despite not being a starter.

  • GEAGLE

    First Kempski and Desean gate

    Then Barkley vs? Kempski

    Now Kempski writes about how Avant and Chip “butted heads”
    ..
    What was an amazingly informative bloggingthebeast. Has turned into the Philadelphia version of the love hold of Jerry Springer and Florio lol

    • Iskar36

      I don’t understand all the criticism Kempski is getting. Has he been wrong about a single one of his reports? He isn’t stirring things up just for the sake of getting a reaction. He has been spot on in his analysis and has offered opinions, some of which are not entirely positive about the team and/or the team’s players. I’d much rather have a measured view on the Eagles from Kempski than him simply reporting only positive stories.

      • GEAGLE

        Not that deep dude….just a joke

  • A_T_G

    Apparently Washington’s resistance to changing the team name is rooted in their history.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/sports/football/50-years-ago-redskins-were-last-nfl-team-to-integrate.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0