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.”


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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.


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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