One special point of emphasis for Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly this offseason will be special teams. That means paying attention to the single most dangerous plays in the NFL: punt and kick returns. In no other situation can fortunes change so quickly. In the blink of an eye an explosive returner can change the outcome of a game, or as we saw in the Super bowl he can nail the coffin shut.
The Eagles were less than exceptional when it came to returns in 2013. For kickoff yards they netted just 790 for the year (24th overall), and for punt returns just 171 (30th overall.)
Most of the heavy lifting was done by Damaris Johnson who averaged 25.9 kickoff yards per return and 8.3 on punts. Brandon Boykin, Brad Smith and DeSean Jackson also contributed.
If I had to give a grade for the Eagles return game last season it would have to be a C-, and that’s on a curve. Along with the Eagles pass defense, this is one of the biggest areas with room for improvement in 2014. Toward that end the Eagles traded for New Orleans Saints running back and returner specialist Darren Sproles, who owns the NFL record for the most all purpose yards in a single season.
Here’s a few clips of Darren Sproles returning punts:
Granted it’s not 2007 anymore but Sproles is still one of the most dynamic returners in the league. Last year with the Saints he tallied 255 kickoff and 194 punt return yards, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was averaging over 1,000 return yards a season.
Sproles is not an end all, be all answer for the Eagles return game but at the very least he provides a strong option to spell Damaris Johnson.