September 08, 2023
When the Eagles took the field at the NovaCare Complex for Thursday morning's practice, there was a curious special teams drill going.
With a JUGS machine firing sky-high punts for the Eagles' returns to field, a few obstacles were added to the routine play that felt ripped from a Nickelodeon GAS game show.
Britain Covey, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins and Greg Ward were taking part in the drill. They were simultaneously already holding a football in one hand while wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead sprayed a water bottle all around them as the punted ball hit their hands. The Super Soaker action isn't a new wrinkle according to Covey.
"We do it whenever there's rain forecasted," Covey said to PhillyVoice.
As of this writing, scattered thunderstorms are on the way Sunday in Foxboro, where the Eagles will take on the Patriots in their season-opening game.
"It's tough because when you have rain on a punt, not only is the ball wet, but your eyes are looking straight up," Covey continued. "Whereas with [catching] a pass, it's hitting your eyes. With a punt, the rain's falling right on you, so you have got to get used to that."
Covey didn't make the Eagles' initial 53-man roster after training camp and the preseason, but it's a foregone conclusion that he will be playing on Sunday in New England. NFL teams can call up two players from their given practice squad for a game with a maximum of three times allowed for a specific player.
"I think we all kind of know who that is at this point," special teams coordinator Michael Clay said before practice on Thursday when asked about the punt and punt returner spots. 2022 punter Arryn Siposs also didn't make the 53-man cut, but will almost assuredly be dressing for the Patriots game under that practice squad rule, too.
"Only a few people on the roster that can punt and punt return. We obviously know that’s our situation."
That's how Covey found himself returning punts in 2022. He was a practice squad elevation for Week 1 and eventually signed outright to the roster, playing in every game for the Eagles. His 9.3 yards per punt return was the eighth best mark in the league. That roster maneuvering will likely be the case this season as well, as the Eagles continue to fine-tune their squad.
"It's a good drill," Covey said about the "Slippery When Wet" setup. "Ever since I started returning punts, there are so many fun drills. I used to have a coach in college throw an exercise ball at me right before the ball hit me."
Covey mentioned the most total footballs he's fielded and held in a single drill. "I've almost gotten six, but you have to hold it between your legs to catch six. Five is the most I can catch. My wingspan isn't that big. I can't hold that many!" he said laughing.
"I had one where I had to catch a tennis ball in one hand and get hit by an exercise ball on one side of my body," Covey went on to say. "I have one where I lay down on the ground and then I have to get up and spin when the ball's at its peak and already kicked.
"I used to try to learn from the best punt returners I could find and ask what drills they would do. Guys like Darren Sproles, I just love to pick their brain for little drills."
Sproles, of course, was a three-time Pro Bowl returner in Philly, landing on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's all-decade team for the 2010s. That's not a bad guy to chat with for inspiration.
Covey also mentioned former Eagles returner Vai Sikahema, who he is "good friends" with. Sikahema's signature touchdown celebration was punching the goal post. Covey says that Sikahema has given him permission to use his go-to move, but noted that it's a penalty in today's NFL.
Covey hasn't taken one back to the house in the NFL, but had five total return TDs during college days at Utah. It looks like boxing moves have been ruled out if he does break one in 2023, but Eagles fans would probably be fine with a flag being thrown on that for the sheer vibes alone.
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