Josh Huff’s first kickoff return as an NFL player was not a memorable one.
He took the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone, headed upfield and was brought down at the 13 yard line.
"The first one, I think, he probably could have got back inside," said Chip Kelly. "It looked like when we look at the pictures there was a hole there."
Huff looked at the pictures on the sideline too and realized he left some yards on the field. But he would get several other opportunities. And late in the first half, he fielded another kickoff. The Eagles had a different return called this time, but Huff found a running lane, headed for the left sideline and saw he only had one man to beat.
"I couldn’t let the kicker tackle me," he said. "I would have heard it from the rest of these guys in the locker room and my college coach back at Oregon."
Huff switched the ball from his right hand to his left hand and stiff-armed Robbie Gould before scampering down the sideline to the end zone for a 102-yard touchdown.
"I was just kind of looking at what angle he was going to take, and he took a pretty good angle to possibly make the play," Huff explained. "So I did what was best and switched the ball over to my outside hand so I can push off with my inside hand [and] stiff-armed him."
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 15th in the NFL on kickoff returns last season. They're hoping to improve on that number in 2014. Nolan Carroll II had been used on kickoff returns in practice, but he sat out Friday night's game with an injury.
Huff made the most of his opportunity, and his ability to finish - which Kelly has seen up close for years - could give him an edge.
"The one thing he can do is he can finish," Kelly said. "He’s a big, strong guy, did a great job stiff-arming the kicker and finishing it. A lot of times, the returns are designed, you can’t block ‘em all so it’s gonna bounce to the safety if we get it blocked up right. And I thought we did a really nice job of blocking it. Josh has got that mentality, he’ll hit it and then come out the other side.
"And then when you come out the other side, you’ve gotta make the kicker miss. I thought it was a real physical move by him. And then he’s obviously got the speed to finish it off. So it’s good to know that you’ve got a kick returner that can finish things. Sometimes if you don’t have that type of speed or you’re not as physical, sometimes you’ll get through the first wall and you’ll get it blocked up the right way, but you’ll get tackled on the 40, which isn’t bad. But we’ll take the return for a touchdown any day over that."
The night before, Huff saw his former college teammate De'Anthony Thomas generate some buzz with an 80-yard punt return score for the Chiefs.
"When DeAnthony made that punt return last night, it just made me think I had to do it as well," he said.
"It was only right. Two Oregon boys showing off on special teams."
Huff's role on offense depends largely on how the receivers ahead of him on the depth chart perform. But in the next three preseason games, he'll look to solidify his role as the Eagles' primary return man.
WHAT YOU MISSED
T-Mac with notes from Franklin Field, including Nick Foles addressing what he needs to work on.
A position-by-position game review of the Eagles' offense against Chicago.
A position-by-position game review of the Eagles' defense.
Julian Vandervelde to have back surgery and other injury notes.
Mark Sanchez makes a strong first impression, writes McManus.
Rookie Beau Allen was a "disruptive force" in his NFL debut.
Jordan Matthews did not dazzle in his debut, writes T-Mac.
Post-game observations from Chicago.
Father murdered, mom battling addiction, failed CFL tryouts. Josh tells the story of Eagles cornerback Davon Morgan.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
The Inquirer's Jeff McLane checks in on Vinny Curry:
Curry already has proven he can do that. But for schematic reasons and the necessity of being stout against the run, he isn't likely to see the field much more than he did in 2013.
"It's tough because you want him out there as much as you can to get pressure on the quarterback because he's gifted and natural at doing it," Ryans said. "But I'm not sure how to get him out there more."
Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz pins blame for the Eagles' offensive woes on the line:
Nick Foles looked shaky, but I figured out a big reason why. The offensive line struggled in a big way on Friday night. I was surprised to see them play so sloppy. And it was “them”…as in the whole line. Actually, Todd Herremans is the one guy who I didn’t see get clearly beat or make a major mistake.
Jason Kelce got driven right back into Foles lap on one play. Evan Mathis had 2 holding penalties. Jason Peters had one holding penalty. Allen Barbre struggled in pass pro on a couple of plays. The line didn’t magically just start to suck. This isn’t about age or talent. They just played poorly. The one thing that stuck out to me with Mathis and Barbre is that they let defenders get into their body. Linemen need to get their hands on defenders quickly to try and control them. The guys were slow to do that and the rushers got the best of them.
We'll hear from Billy Davis this morning. The Eagles have a walk-through, and then it's off to Massachusetts for a week with the Patriots.