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July 22, 2023

Eagles 2023 training camp preview: Specialists

Ahead of training camp, Jimmy Kempski previews the Eagles' special teams unit.

Eagles NFL
Arryn Siposs Eagles Open Practice 080722 Claggett 2 Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Arryn Siposs

Over the last few weeks (basically whenever there wasn't other news to cover), we've been taking a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp. Today we'll finish out the series with the specialists.

Previous training camp previews

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver
Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line
Edge rusher | Interior defensive line | Off-ball linebacker
Cornerback | Safety

First, the depth chart:

Special Teams 
Jake Elliott  
Arryn Siposs Ty Zentner 
LS Rick Lovato  
Holder Siposs/Zentner Britain Covey 
KR Boston Scott Quez Watkins 
PR Britain Covey DeVonta Smith 

Jake Elliott

Elliott was coming off of his first ever Pro Bowl season in 2021, and he had another good season in 2022. He was 20 of 23 (87.0%) on field goals, and 51 of 53 (96.2%) on PATs. One of his PAT misses was in heavy rain and wind Week 4 against the Jaguars, and his lone field goal miss of under 40 yards was a 38-yarder in Chicago in bitter cold and wind conditions. He was 5/6 from beyond 50.

His performance in the home field clinching Week 18 game against the Giants was outstanding. He made all five of his field goal attempts, two of which were from 50+ yards. The Eagles needed those points.

Elliott is one of the best kickers in the NFL who has consistently come up big in pressure situations. He's kind of a low-key star player.

Arryn Siposs

In his first NFL season in 2021, Siposs struggled mightily down the stretch, with several Shankopotomus punts in the final two games. Against Dallas Week 18, in "crush the ball deep" territory, Siposs had punts of 21 and 24 yards, both of which led to Cowboys touchdowns on their ensuing drives. Against the Buccaneers in the playoffs, once again in "crush it" situations, Siposs hit punts of 27 and 36 yards, with the latter leading to a Bucs touchdown on the ensuing drive.

During the offseason, the Eagles made the baffling choice not to give Siposs any competition during training camp, basically handing him the job. He was better during the regular season in 2022 than he was in 2021, but he once again had a disastrous performance in the playoffs. 

In the second half of the Super Bowl, Siposs was supposed to punt the ball to the left side of the field, but he shanked a line drive to the right side. As you can see in the video below (if you can stomach re-watching it), the Eagles' gunners are running down the field as if they expect the ball to have been punted to the left. When the Eagles' punt coverage over-pursued to the right, Kadarius Toney made Zach Pascal miss and then found wide open spaces with a convoy out in front of him. 

Devastating play. Punters are too good these days for teams to be worried about them malfunctioning in big games. Siposs will finally have some training camp comp competition this year, in the form of undrafted rookie Ty Zentner. It should be noted that Siposs clearly out-punted Zentner in a media-attended OTA practice in early June. Each punter got eight punts, and I timed their respective hangtimes.

Punt Siposs Zentner 
4.81 5.00 
4.85 4.51 
5.13 4.60 
4.40 4.58 
4.93 4.61 
4.98 3.91 (bad snap) 
5.11 3.81 (shankopotomous) 
5.18 4.76 
Avg 4.92 4.47 

So, you know, brace yourselves for another season of Siposs.

Ty Zentner

Zentner had double duty at Kansas State, serving as the team's kicker and punter, which isn't that uncommon in college football. He'll focus on punting in the pros.

In 2022, Zentner averaged 44.5 yards per punt, and a net average of 41.9. As a kicker, he made all 42 of his kicks (11 field goals, 31 PATs), including this clutch game-winning field goal right down the middle in the Big 12 Championship Game.

As a punter, Zentner has a strong leg, as you can see in his highlight reel: 

"Puntalytics" actually had Zentner as a fit for the Eagles prior to the draft:

The Eagles could opt to bring in Rutgers punter and 2022 Ray Guy Award winner Adam Korsak to compete with Arryn Siposs, but they’ve had enough time with pin-deep specialists who struggle to uncork long-balls to know that they’d like something different (plus they never punt from beyond their 40, so why even go for a pin-deep guy). Instead, they go for wild-card, and official prospect of Puntalytics, Ty Zentner. Zentner combines a monster leg with some serious shank issues. Fans see both on display in the preseason, and though he doesn’t beat out Siposs in 2023, the Eagles finally give themself a respectable pipeline.

Shanks have of course been the downfall of Siposs.

"I have seen the Shankopotamus, both asleep and awake; and I can assure you," wrote Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1850, "that awake or asleep, he is the ugliest of the works of God."

Rick Lovato

Lovato threw the ball through his legs with speed and precision in 2022. Probably.

Kick returners

2022 stats:

Kick returners Returns Yards YPR TD 
Boston Scott 15 406 27.1 
Britain Covey 10 206 20.6 
Quez Watkins 51 10.2 

Scott's value to the team decreased somewhat when the new kickoff rules passed. The Eagles are nearly certain to be a team that is happy to make fair catches on kickoffs and take the ball at the 25 yard line. Because of that rule change, all the Eagles need is a guy who can collect fair catches.

Punt returners

2022 stats:

Punt returners Returns Yards YPR TD 
Britain Covey 33 308 9.3 
DeVonta Smith 15 7.5 

We covered Covey in the wide receiver edition of this series, but I suppose we'll copy/paste for your convenience.

Covey's rookie season got off to a bad start, as he had two fumbles and averaged 6.8 yards per punt return in the Eagles' first 10 games. However, the Eagles stuck with him and over the last 10 games (including the playoffs) Covey played well, averaging 13.3 yards per return with no fumbles.

 Britain CoveyPunt returns Yards YPR Fumbles 
First 10 games 19 130 6.8 
 Last 10 games 16 213 13.3 

Covey's best game came against the Titans when he had returns of 11, 20, 16, 27, 25, and 6 yards. He also had a good showing in the Super Bowl, returning two punts for 35 yards. In fact, 11 of Covey's 16 returns during the last 10 games of the Eagles' season went for at least 10 yards. He did a much better job of (a) getting the yards that were there instead of running horizontally, and (b) making the first guy miss.

We cut up all of Covey's returns in 2022 in a review of him in June.

Covey is an extremely low-cost player who showed legitimate improvement in his role as the season progressed, and should be back as the team's primary punt returner once again.

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