Making the Roster: Special Teams Stars

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

When projecting the 53-man roster, the toughest calls come down to the fringe players who rarely get on the field on offense and defense. Often, the determining factor for the last few guys in and out is simple: special teams.

Chip Kelly, in a press conference before practice last Tuesday, said it best.

“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “If you’re not in that top group of guys, the three ways to make this football team are special teams, special teams and special teams.”

Because of that, we put together a list of starters (from the most recent preseason game) for four of the special teams units: kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. We also had a few of the Eagles’ top special teams players break down their position and what their responsibilities are in each unit.

StarterNo. of UnitsStarterNo. of Units
Brad Jones4Jerome Couplin2
Eric Rowe4Najee Goode2
Seyi Ajirotutu3Jaylen Watkins2
E.J. Biggers3Jon Dorenbos1
Bryan Braman3Donnie Jones1
Trey Burton3Kevin Monangai1
Jordan Hicks3Cody Parkey1
Chris Maragos3Eric Tomlinson1
Ed Reynolds3Justin Tukes1
Kenjon Barner2Diaheem Watkins1


Starters: Seyi AjirotutuE.J. Biggers, Bryan BramanTrey BurtonJerome CouplinNajee GoodeBrad JonesChris MaragosCody ParkeyEd ReynoldsEric Rowe

Bird’s-eye view: “I’m pretty much on the perimeter so my job is to condense the field and make sure the ball doesn’t go outside me,” said Ajirotutu, who plays the left two, or second person from the left sideline. “The path I take down the field is predicated on the return and what they’re trying to do. My job, though, is to keep the ball inside and in front of the other eight guys.”

Spotlight: If you watch the video below (courtesy of Fran Duffy), you’ll see Ajirotutu’s words in action. Although the video spotlights Braman and the tackle he made, Ajirotutu (No. 16) doesn’t let the return man outside of him and forces the returner back into Braman.


Starters: Kenjon Barner, Biggers, Couplin, Goode, Jordan Hicks, Jones, Kevin Monangai, Rowe, Eric TomlinsonJustin TukesDiaheem Watkins

Bird’s-eye view: “You have to study film to really know the guys and who their speed guys are and who their power guys are,” said Jones, who plays several positions. “You also really have to read your opponent on the fly to know what he’s looking at, how he’s going to come at you and how he’s going to try to beat your block. You’re looking at speed and pad level. You’re reading their facial expressions too; you can tell when guys think they see something and will make a move.”


Starters: Ajirotutu, Barner, Biggers, Braman, Burton, Hicks, Jones, Maragos, Reynolds, Rowe, Jaylen Watkins

Bird’s-eye view: “The first people to normally get down the field are gunners, so my number one job is to not let him get down there as fast,” said Biggers, who’s a corner. “You try to make him turn a bunch of times and hold him up as much as you can to give your returner the space to make plays. They’re little things you learn playing a couple of years that you can get away with. The refs let a couple of things go; it’s kind of like a fight out there.”

Analysis: If you watch the video below (again, courtesy of Duffy), Watkins and Reynolds do a good job of holding up their gunner to give Barner plenty of space to operate. Biggers initially shoves the gunner a few yards out of bounds before Reynolds seals him off to the outside.


Starters: Ajirotutu, Braman, Burton, Jon Dorenbos, Hicks, B. Jones, Donnie Jones, Maragos, Reynolds, Rowe, J. Watkins

Bird’s-eye view: “I make all of the calls for our punt team setting the protection and, obviously, protecting Donnie’s leg,” said Maragos, who is the personal protector. “You just want to make sure you get a good punch on the guy and make sure you front him up so there’s no penetration or leakage. There are two parts of the punt team—protect and then cover. A lot of times I’m trying to get down there as a speed player and make the ball bounce outside and flush to my defenders.”