More Sports:

September 28, 2023

Britain Covey is the Eagles' 'goofy little brother' and one of the NFL's best punt returners

Britain Covey's punt return numbers so far this season have him among the league's best.

Britain Covey knows Darren Sproles' punt return stats off the top of his head, and can tell you about any one of his own returns over the past year too – from the good ones that really picked up toward the back half of last season and even the not so good ones that looked more like auditions for "Jackass" than anything.

But he has it all registered for a reason.

Right now, Covey, just three games into his second season as a pro, is one of the best punt returners in the NFL.

His 113 total yards on six returns are the second most in the league behind only Cincinnati's Charlie Jones at 150 (who has two more), and his average of 18.8 yards per punt amongst returners with five or more attempts is right up there with Jones at the top.

It's only been a short while, but Covey has already come a long way from being that plucky undrafted rookie out of Utah, and the ultimate show of his progress came during Monday night's 25-11 win over the Buccaneers down in Tampa, when in the first quarter, he fielded a punt from behind the Eagles' own five-yard line and took it 52 yards straight upfield.

The Tampa crowd, which seemed to lean heavily Midnight Green, got louder with every stride as he broke into the open field, and by the time he got pushed out of bounds by the Eagles' sideline, his teammates were amped for – as he put it – their "goofy little brother."

"It feels good, you know?" Covey said of the moment from his locker at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. "I think I'm like the goofy little brother on the team in a way, kind of the comic relief, and I don't know, whatever the team needs me to do, I will do it on the field and off the field."

He's had that mentality from the start, and though it's been far from a smooth ride, it's brought him a long way, but so has patience and commitment to a process.

Because as Covey will tell you while ringing off Sproles' stats, becoming a great punt returner is very much a process.

"Sometimes it's scheme, opportunity, or fit," Covey explained. "Darren's first four years, I think his average was about 10, right? And he got a touchdown and things, and then he came here and he just got put in the right spot, and we all know how unbelievable he is as a returner. Two back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, two touchdowns each, over 13 yards a return, so it's finding that, you know?"

With plenty of room for error and time to learn, that always helps, too.

Covey finished last season averaging 9.3 yards per punt return, but that stat can be split into two halves.

In Weeks 1-9 of 2022, Covey returned 18 punts at a rate of 6.5 yards per, but from Weeks 10-17, that average nearly doubled up to 12.7 yards over 15 tries.

There's the obvious of a rookie getting more comfortable over time, but Covey explained that there were a couple of other factors, both for himself and within the special teams game plan, that had to be accounted for as well.

First and foremost, he wanted to be sure he earned the trust of Nick Sirianni and the rest of the coaching staff, so his mission was to give them whatever they needed, and at the time, that wasn't trying for big, game-changing punt returns. That juggernaut of an offense led by Jalen Hurts could handle the big home-run swings and more than often did, so he just needed to take whatever yards were directly in front of him.

"I think there's a little bit of unselfishness in that, that you can swallow your pride," Covey said. "A lot of times, you'll see me catch the ball at the 10-yard line knowing I'm gonna get five yards. I know my average is going down, but I don't care. The playbook doubles from when you're at the eight-yard line to when you're at the 16, so that eight yards is a huge deal to the offense. You just gotta put your pride down."

Second, practice, Covey added, is one thing for special teams, but there's just no simulating the feel and speed of a live return and everything that needs to be processed while making one until you're actually back there fielding it. It's just something that has to be figured out on the fly, and doing that takes time.

But so far, the Eagles' "goofy little brother" looks well on his way there, alongside a special teams unit that has also looked much better compared to last season.

"It's not that big of a difference between a 10-yard and a 30-yard return, and so, that's why I think as the unit goes, the punt returners goes," Covey said. "It's not me. It's those guys, and I just love those guys blocking for me."

Make no mistake though, that returner can move too. 

"He's reliable, really explosive, and he did what we've seen over and over again in practice since he's got here," Sirianni said Wednesday as the Eagles prep for Washington later this week. "We know we got maybe a hidden gem that not everybody always fully appreciates. Shoot, we sure do, and he is a locker room favorite here. These guys love Britain Covey because he's tough, he works his butt off, great personality."

*Jimmy Kempski contributed to this story.

MORE: Britain Covey discusses the wildest punt return drills he's done

Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports