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January 26, 2015

Eagles offseason positional previews: Special teams

Eagles NFL
012515DonnieJones Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Cody Parkey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2014, while Donnie Jones was named Greatest Being in the Universe in 2013.

For the sake of being thorough, we'll close out our offseason positional previews by looking at the specialists. When we began this series, we identified punter and kicker as the 10th and 11th most glaring needs heading into the offseason. Obviously, there was very little wrong with the Eagles' special teams units in 2014. Here's what we said:

10) Punter

Donnie Jones killed it in his first season with the Eagles in 2013, but did not have as good a season in 2014. He'll likely be back in 2015.

11) Kicker

Cody Parkey had a good season, up until Week 16, and is highly likely to return as the Eagles' kicker next season. In Alex Henery's first season under Chip Kelly, the Eagles did not push Henery with any competition at all in training camp. It will be interesting to see if they push Parkey.

In the past I've done thorough reviews of Jon Dorenbos' long snaps. Seriously. In 2012, Dorenbos had a bad season. In 2013, he was very good. I did not mention long snapper in that original post (shame on me), but my sense is that Pro Bowler Jon Dorenbos had another good season in 2014 and should be on solid enough ground there that we don't have mention the Eagles bringing in any sort of competition for him.

In regard to kicker and punter, however, I don't believe that anyone is above having competition in training camp. It would be crazy to draft a kicker or punter, but acquiring one in the form of an undrafted free agent seems like a prudent thing to do, even if Jones appeared in a commercial with Chip:


The Eagles have also done a tremendous job since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in bringing in quality special teams players in free agency, like Bryan Braman, Chris Maragos, and James Casey. Why stop now?

Free agents:

Dwayne Harris, WR/KR, Cowboys

We covered Harris in the WR section of this series, but will do so again here for relevancy purposes:

Harris has a career 26.5 yard average on 77 career kick returns. He has also scored two TDs and averaged 11.1 yards per return on 87 career punt returns. Here's how that compares to Devin Hester, who is considered by many to be the best returner ever: 

010915DwayneHarris

Harris also led the Cowboys with 11 special teams tackles last season.

But wait? Didn't Darren Sproles just make the Pro Bowl as a returner? Yep, he sure did, but he's also 32, and while Chris Polk and Josh Huff both showed promise as kick returners in 2014, Harris would still be an upgrade.

The harder sell would be to Harris, who returned every punt for the Cowboys in 2014, and all but three kicks. Would he accept a role in which he had to occasionally share returning responsibilities? Perhaps, if he thought he might get more opportunities in the regular offense. As evidenced by his excellent return numbers, Harris can make things happen in open space, which makes him an intriguing option in Chip Kelly's spread offense as a guy you can get the ball to and let him get yards after the catch. He's also considered a good blocker, which we all know is the most valuable attribute ever for a wide receiver.

Undrafted free agents:

Mike Sadler, P, Michigan State

Yes, I've actually identified a punter who could spark the Eagles' interest as an undrafted free agent who could push Jones. Because I'm a loser. So why Sadler?

He's a lefty. The Eagles have made two punter acquisitions since Chip Kelly took over as head coach, Donnie Jones and Brad Wing. Both are left-footed punters. Therefore, my keen observational and deductive powers tell me the Chip prefers lefty punters. Lefty punters have a different rotation on the ball than righties, and the thinking is that returners could have more trouble fielding punts by lefties, perhaps leading to an increase in muffed punts.

I have no such specific kickers to mention that the Eagles could bring in to keep Parkey honest. Apologies.

Previous positions we reviewed:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Running back
  3. Wide receiver
  4. Tight end
  5. Offensive line
  6. Defensive line
  7. Outside linebacker
  8. Inside linebacker
  9. Cornerback
  10. Safety

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski