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July 24, 2018

Eagles training camp preview: Special teams

Eagles NFL
Carroll - Eagles Stock Jake Elliott Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Kicker Jake Elliott during OTAs at the NovaCare Complex.

Leading up to training camp, we've taken a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team. In case you've missed any of them, you can catch up here.

Offense: QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | OG/C
Defense: DE | DT | LB | CB | S

Today we'll finish out the series with a look at special teams.

Jake Elliott  
 Cameron Johnston 
LS  Rick Lovato 
 BramanChris Maragos  
KR Corey Clement Wendell Smallwood 
PR Darren Sproles  Rashard Davis

Jake Elliott

Elliott was money from long distance, and had ice water in his veins on clutch kicks, most notably in Week 3 last season against the New York Giants, when he hit a game-winning 61-yard field goal, and in the Super Bowl, when he hit an underrated 46-yarder with just over a minute to play to extend the Eagles' lead to eight points.

But his clutch moments weren't limited just to those two kicks. 

• He was 4/4, hitting from 45, 40, 53, and 47 against the Chargers in a game the Eagles only won by two points.

• He was 2/2, hitting from 50 and 48 in a close game against the Panthers.

• He was 3/3 against the Rams, including a pair of fourth quarter kicks. That game was way closer than the 43-35 score would indicate, as the Eagles got a defensive touchdown with no time left on the clock.

• He hit a late, tie-breaking 48-yard field goal against Oakland in nasty weather.

• He hit a 53-yard field goal against the Falcons to close the first half, after Keanu Neal had a gift INT bounce off his knee and into Torrey Smith's hands.

Elliott was an incredible in-season acquisition after the Eagles lost Caleb Sturgis to injury. Sturgis signed with the Chargers this offseason, and Elliott clearly isn't going anywhere, as the Eagles opted not to give him any kind of competition in training camp. It seems like in recent years when Eagles kickers went unopposed in camp, they faltered in varying degrees. Maybe Elliott can break that trend.

Cameron Johnston

After Donnie J'owns (cough) "retired," Johnston, who had signed a futures contract at the end of the regular season, was left as the only remaining punter on the roster. I think the Eagles were open to Johnston replacing J'owns last season, but J'owns clearly beat out Johnston in camp.

Johnston did not have a stellar spring, though the Eagles still have not brought in any competition for him. When asked if Johnston would be getting competition, special teams coach Dave Fipp noted (we're paraphrasing here) that Johnston is essentially competing against the rest of the league, which can be harder because you don't actually get to see your competition every day at practice.

Rick Lovato

There was some hand-wringing about the field goal operation potentially going in the toilet after the Eagles traded Jon Dorenbos to the Saints to make way for Lovato. As it turned out, the trade may have saved Dorenbos' life, and Lovato was a perfectly capable long snapper (although Donnie did bail him out on one field goal snap in the Super Bowl). Lovato has no camp competition in 2018.

Chris Maragos

Maragos is one of the best special teams players in the NFL when healthy. His health is in question as he missed all of spring practices after suffering a serious knee injury against the Carolina Panthers last season. He is also one of the fastest players on the roster, so it will be interesting to see if he can regain his speed, which is crucial to his ability to perform on special teams.

Maragos is a respected player in the locker room, and an organizational favorite. However, he'll also count for $2 million against the cap in 2018, $1.5 million of which the team would save if they released him. I believe that Maragos will be back this season, but a release wouldn't be out of the question if he's not the same player.

Corey Clement

Kick returner duty is something of a question mark heading into training camp. In 2017, the primary kick returner was Kenjon Barner, who signed with the Panthers this offseason. Outside of Barner, the only players to return kicks last year (if we aren't counting Brent Celek) were Wendell Smallwood (4 returns) and Corey Clement (2 returns).

A season ago, the Eagles were content to take a knee any time a kickoff reached the end zone, knowing that they had a great offense that they felt could drive the field from the 25 yard line. With the NFL adding an idiotic rule in which the kick coverage team won't get a running start on kickoffs, there's perhaps more potential for big plays on kick returns. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles adapt to that change.

Anyway, we'll project Clement to be the kick returner for now, since Smallwood has an uphill climb just to make the team, and it's probably too violent a play for Sproles at his age.

Darren Sproles

Sproles will return for one last season after he didn't want his career ended by an injury. His role may be diminished to some degree in the regular offense, but there's little question that he'll be the primary punt returner.

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