Eagles Wake-Up Call: Don’t Forget About Special Teams

Back in February, Dave Fipp seemed confident that Chip Kelly would make special teams a focus for the Eagles.

“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.”

While that probably sounds like typical coach-speak, the Eagles’ actions in the past couple weeks indicate that Kelly is serious about improving a unit that let the team down on a weekly basis in 2012.

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.

What were the specific areas of concern? The punt team would be a good place to start. Per Football Outsiders, the punt/punt coverage unit was the worst in the league. Opponents started drives on average at their own 31.86-yard-line. That was the worst mark in the NFL.

Part of the problem was turnovers by the offense, but the other issue was that the Eagles were bad in coverage. Earlier this week, the team announced it had cut Mat McBriar and added punter Donnie Jones.

Fipp, meanwhile, takes over for Bobby April, who moved on to Oakland after an underwhelming three-year run.

On paper, the Eagles’ new additions should help the coverage teams. In addition to bringing back Colt Anderson, here are some points to consider.

* Per Pro Football Focus, new linebacker Jason Phillips led the Panthers with 11 special-teams tackles last season.

* In addition to his role on offense, James Casey had 10 special-teams tackles the last two seasons. In 2010, he led the Texans with 11 special-teams tackles.

* Arrelious Benn had eight special-teams tackles as a rookie and five last year (in limited action). He also has experience as a kickoff returner (although Benn was underwhelming in that role).

* Patrick Chung had 14 special-teams tackles his first two seasons in the league.

* Bradley Fletcher had seven special-teams tackles last season with the Rams.

As you can see, there’s a lot of special-teams experience from the new guys. The Eagles could decide to make a move to bolster the return game in the draft, but they’re already off to a good start in improving a weakness from a year ago.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Linebacker Victor Butler left Philadelphia without a contract, but there is still mutual interest between the two sides.

The Eagles hosted Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine for an official visit. They have also shown interest in Rice tight end Vance McDonald and Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas.

Six different prospects get a mention in our latest mock draft roundup.

Our latest draft profile looks at Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher.

With the draft less than a month away, T-Mac searches for hints on who the Eagles could be targeting at No. 4.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Matt Williamson of ESPN.com says the Eagles might not be far away from turning things around:

While there is much change going on in Philadelphia, they have fantastic draft assets and really not many glaring needs considering where their draft position is. The Eagles should truly be able to often select the best player on their board rather than picking for positional needs. There isn’t a powerhouse in the NFC East, and if the draft goes well — which it really should — the Eagles might just finish the 2012 season atop their division. Stranger things have happened.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com has the Eagles 24th in his power rankings:

They’ve added some nice pieces in free agency, but now comes the tough part: Who plays quarterback?

COMING UP

We’ll see if anything happens with Victor Butler, plus plenty of draft chatter.

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