Eagles Wake-Up Call: Can Fipp Fix Special Teams?

The question posed to Chip Kelly was about defensive coordinator Billy Davis and a potential switch to a 3-4 scheme.

“I like the 3-4 better,” Kelly said. “When I first started at Oregon, I think from a special-teams standpoint, philosophically, if you carry more linebackers on your roster than you do defensive linemen, you help your team from a special-teams standpoint.”

It was far from the most important thing Kelly said on a day when he introduced his new staff and announced Michael Vick would be returning. But it showed that he’s thinking about special teams when shaping other parts of the organization.

According to Football Outsiders, the Birds had the 24th-ranked special teams in the league in 2012. Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News had the Eagles 28th.

With Bobby April now in Oakland, Dave Fipp takes over as special-teams coordinator. His relationship with Kelly goes back 13 years to when Fipp traveled to New Hampshire to interview for a coaching job.

“My favorite part about Chip Kelly is he’s been the same guy the whole time,” he said.

Fipp, a former safety at University of Arizona, has five years of NFL coaching experience. He spent three seasons (2008-10) as the 49ers’ assistant special-teams coach and the past two years in the same role with the Dolphins. Fipp also bounced around the college ranks at Holy Cross, Arizona, Cal Poly, Nevada and San Jose State.

While Kelly’s plans for running NFL practices remain a bit of a mystery, Fipp emphasized that the head coach is committed to making special teams a priority.

“I can tell you this, I know that special teams is really important to him,” Fipp said. “I know special teams is critical to him. I know he’s going to allocate the time necessary that we need to perform at a high level.”

As of last Monday, Fipp said he had already spent a considerable amount of time looking at what went right and what went wrong for the Eagles on special teams last season. He didn’t want to point fingers, but said he expects his group to be different going forward.

From a personnel standpoint, Colt Anderson is a restricted free agent. Long-snapper Jon Dorenbos is unrestricted. And so is Akeem Jordan, the team’s leading tackler on special teams in 2012.

One decision Kelly will have to make is whether or not to use DeSean Jackson on punt returns. Jackson only returned one punt last season, and he was terrible in that role in 2011. But in his first three years in the league, Jackson had four touchdowns on special teams.

“He’s obviously as explosive as any player in the National Football League back there,” Fipp said. “He’s really lightning in a bottle. The guy’s deadly. He has changed a lot of games with his ability back there. I know he hasn’t done it really for a couple years.

“I know this. I know that Coach Kelly knows that he’s an explosive player. I know that his role on this football team will be maximized. Whether or not he’ll be back there returning punts, we’ll find out.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Dennis Dixon says the Eagles’ quarterback job is up for grabs.

If the Birds let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk, what are their options at cornerback?

Here are some draft nuggets from Mike Mayock with an Eagles slant.

The Eagles mock draft roundup page has been updated.

The Cowboys could have had LeSean McCoy, but Jerry Jones strayed from his draft board.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano pegs Anderson as the Eagles’ must-keep free agent:

The Eagles have only eight free agents, and the seven unrestricted guys are either dead weight or non-essential. Argue cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if you like, but is he a “must-keep?” Anderson is a special-teams ace and a decent backup safety.

SI.com’s Peter King says the unimpressive class of QB prospects is a good thing for teams looking to deal a signal-caller:

That means San Francisco should get a mid-round pick, at worst, for Smith, who was the league’s top-rated quarterback last November when benched for Colin Kaepernick and is still just 28. Seattle could get a pick for Matt Flynn, who’s been made obsolete by Russell Wilson. And the Eagles, despite their we-love-Nick-Foles protestations to the contrary, should be able to get a mid-rounder for their second-year passer.

COMING UP

Plenty to get to, including a profile of one prospect who could be on the Eagles’ radar.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • JofreyRice

    I think you have to strike the right balance with Desean. Let’s face it, he’s not the biggest guy in the world. I advocated him returning punts during the Reid regime, because for as much as people laud Reid & Morninwheg’s ability as coordinators, they did a piss poor job of getting him the football–about 4-5 times a game. In that case, putting him back there made sense, because it increased his chances of impacting the game. I actually credit Reid with a lot, in terms of Eagles’ QB’s success, but the underuse of Jackson didn’t make sense from a strategic or financial perspective.

    If Kelly plans involve Desean like De’Anthony Thomas–getting him the ball with handoffs & pitches from the backfield, bubble screens, and his normal routes–and can get him 8-10 touches a game, I think you use him in select situations for returns, but otherwise minimize the wear on his small frame.

    • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

      It’s a fine line.. at some point you have to say we are paying this kid a lot of money, and his job is to score points.

      You can say “well we should only use him in select situations” but how often does a situation come up where the game is on the line and you have to return a punt to try and win/tie a game and the punt returner actually gets to field a return? They called it MIRACLE at the Meadowlands for a reason.. it was Miracle they even let him touch the ball.

      I’m done with this holding him back stuff, he’s one of the most explosive players in the game and I think you need to get him the ball any way you can. And that includes returning every punt possible, not just the odd one or two.

      • JofreyRice

        I hear you, but I’m not sure he could hold up if he’s getting 8-10 touches in the regular offense and returning 4 or 5 punts a game; he left quite a few games with little nicks, even with the limited use Reid found for him. Also, I’m not sure he’s somebody you want as a full time punt returner–he runs backwards a lot looking for the big play. I kind of liken it to a quicker change-of-pace back that constantly tries to bounce runs outside for the long TD. He might actually be more effective situationally. You don’t just have to wait until the game’s on the line, you could do it on the first punt of the second half, if the team is down, etc.

        I’d be happy enough with having him be more involved in the base offense and seeing him run harder through traffic, but I see what you’re saying. They’re paying him a lot of money, and the guy has major talent.

  • Wilbert M.

    I’d like to see Maclin in the return game. He returned KO’s and punts in college and was very good. I’d rather see him taking those hits than Desean. Maybe the return game is where Maclin can prove he’s valuable enough to re-sign, because up to now, he has just been an average WR.

    • JofreyRice

      They tried that in his rookie year–that was supposed to be one of his big strengths. He failed miserably as a returner. After being appointed the KR in TC, I think he had lost the job by the first game of 2009. I don’t know if anything’s changed now.

      • http://www.facebook.com/luke.mrzljak Luke Ivan

        Bobby April has changed.

        • JofreyRice

          I don’t know man, when I think of Jeremy Maclin, I don’t think of powerful & fast open field running, and the ability to set up blocks, I think of a guy falling down into the fetal position when a defender gets close. I see the strength of his game in getting open through route-running–in the redzone, specifically. But you could be right, maybe the Coach has a lot to do with it.

  • Bob A

    They can only improve at this point. One thing Chip will have to do is play a few starters on this unit. Andy protected them like they were fine china, so the other teams personnel was always better than ours. Did anyone notice how many key players the Niners used on ST this year?

  • Bob A

    In reference to Graziano’s piece,I would also keep Dorenbos. Yeah, he’s just the LS, but at that position , all you want is a guy that never makes mistakes , and he never makes mistakes.I’m sure the money would be a non issue in this case, he’s always been paid like a backup ST guy.

  • over the top

    Why would the eagles trade foles for a mid round pic when they drafted him as a high 3rd and he has shown he can be a starter even behind one of the poorest lines ever and 2nd string receivers….. got to be worth as much as any of the 4 QBs that will go late 1st or 2nd rd