More Sports:

July 16, 2017

Eagles training camp preview: Specialists

On July 24, there will be football again, as quarterbacks, rookies, and select veterans will report for training camp. Leading up to camp, we'll be taking a look at each positional group. Today we'll preview the specialists before we move onto the defensive side of the ball.


First, here's a look at the depth chart at the specialist positions:

Caleb Sturgis  
 Donnie JonesCameron Johnston (R) 
LS  Jon DorenbosRick Lovato 
KR Wendell Smallwood Nelson Agholor 
PR Darren Sproles Donnel Pumphrey 

Sturgis had a nice season after soundly beating out Cody Parkey in training camp. Sturgis' numbers on the season:

 Caleb Sturgis20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ 
 201611/11 11/11 7/10 4/6 

Sturgis was perfect from inside of 40, going for 22/22, although he did miss one PAT (27/28). On the season as a whole, Sturgis was 33/38, or 86.8 percent, which was good for 10th in the NFL. Perhaps what is most encouraging about Sturgis is that he has improved every year:

Caleb Sturgis FG percentage 
2013 76.5% 
2014 78.4% 
2015 81.8% 
2016 86.8% 

He also did a great job on kickoffs, lofting kicks with good hang time, allowing the Eagles' coverage units to get down the field to almost always make tackles shy of the touchback mark at the 25-yard line. In fact, opposing teams averaged 19.1 yards per kick return, which was second-lowest in the NFL.

Because he played so well last season, Sturgis earned the right to go through training camp this camp with no competition. While it's good news for the team that they may have found a gem in Sturgis, one of my favorite training camp battles every season is the kicker battle. There will be none this year. Life is hard.

At punter, Donnie J'owns returns once again after signing a three-year contract extension. The Eagles do have another punter in camp, but he's only there to give Donnie a breather every now and then.

At long snapper, Jon Dorenbos returns, though he had to recover from a serious wrist injury. Dorenbos' recovery will be a minor storyline to follow throughout camp.

At returner, Darren Sproles will almost certainly handle punt return duties once again, although Donnel Pumphrey is getting a lot of work there as well.

While he did not return kicks or punts much in college, fielding kicks and punts is something Pumphrey worked on quite a bit at San Diego State. During srping practiceds, as we've noted in our practice observations, Pumphrey looked completely comfortable catching kicks and punts, which is a lot harder than it looks.

"During practice, I caught all of the punts," he said. "Even before games I was catching kicks and punts. It's natural for me. We had great specialists at San Diego State, and most of time on offense we were running the ball so they wanted to keep my health level up and just focus on the running back spot."

In other words, Pumphrey was the offense in college, and his coaching staff did not want to risk getting him injured on special teams. In the pros, it appears that the Eagles envision a diverse, creative role for Pumphrey, and are heavily testing out what he can do for them in multiple phases.

At kick returner, after Josh Huff was released last season, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner and Nelson Agholor got most of the kick return reps. For now we'll pencil in Smallwood for that job, though Agholor and Pumphrey could also be in the mix there as well.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

Like Jimmy on Facebook.

Like the new PhillyVoice Sports page on Facebook.