Eagles Special Teams Coach Updates Punt Returner Situation

Jalen Reagor

Getty Eagles rookie Jalen Reagor redeemed himself after muffing his NFL punt return.

Jalen Reagor looked like a five-hour energy drink in punt-return formation. Explosive, with serious twitch.

Then, the nerves got the Eagles’ first-round draft pick. Reagor dropped the football on his first NFL touch, an alarming trend that haunted him at training camp. It was also a topic of conversation at the NFL Scouting Combine, particularly from draft expert Daniel Jeremiah. It’s not a problem. Repeat after me, not a problem.

Reagor went on to return two punts in Week 1 for six yards as he and Greg Ward alternated on special teams. That rotation will continue throughout the regular season. More importantly, no one is worried about the rookie.

“Obviously, it’s not acceptable,” Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said of the muffed return. “We’re not accepting it. It starts with me. But in terms of confidence with the guy, I’m not worried. Now if it continues to be a theme, obviously we’ll have to talk about it more.”

Fipp pointed to arguably the greatest example of a guy who fumbled quite often in his career, none other than Devin Hester. The former Bears return man is the NFL’s all-time returns leader with 20 touchdowns (14 on punts), but Hester averaged four fumbles per year during that span. With great speed and creativity comes risk.

“He’s done a lot of good things for us to just get super down on any one player for any one mistake, especially these young guys,” Fipp said. “The bottom line is I think when you watch young returners throughout the league, and if you just go back in history, I think Devin Hester has more muffs than anybody, and he turned out to be a real good player. I think Darren Sproles put a bunch on the ground early in his career.”

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Praise for Rudy Ford, Kudos for Cam Johnston

One of the brightest spots from Sunday’s season-opening loss was the play of Rudy Ford. He stepped into the role of gunner on special teams with virtual ease, not to mention reckless abandon.

There were at least three kicks where he just outraced everyone down the field to make the first tackle. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising since Ford ran a 4.34 40 at his pro day. It also explains why the Eagles decided to keep six safeties coming out of training camp.

“Rudy has always been a really good player for us, talented,” Fipp said. “Obviously last year he got nicked up, so we didn’t have him for a chunk of the season. But you guys all saw, he’s got great speed, can run on the perimeter.”

Ford mostly shared the gunner role with Craig James. The special teams coach also made sure to mention the effort of punter Cameron Johnston. If he doesn’t boom those screaming kicks up in the air, then Ford can’t get there in time.

“Usually if the punter is hanging the ball up there, the gunner has a chance to make more plays,” Fipp said. “I thought Cam did a better job this game than in the past at times.”

Craig James Placed on Injured Reserve

The Eagles placed Craig James on injured reserve on Tuesday. He was their special-teams ace and team captain, a guy the entire organization has gone out of their way to shower with love and affection. Now he’s out for at least three weeks with a thigh injury, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Fipp mentioned Cre’Von LeBlanc as one player who might see an uptick in snaps as gunner with James missing in action. Wait, was he missing in action? In a weird exchange, it seemed like Fipp didn’t know James had been injured, at least until the media told him.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even know how long he is out or if he is out,” Fipp said. “At the end of the day all these guys could go down at any one play right there. We’ll just have the next guy step up, go in. We’re confident. We have contingency plans.”

Duke Riley paced the Eagles with 81 total snaps (24 on special teams) while fellow linebacker T.J. Edwards logged 47 snaps (27 on special teams). James logged 25 special-teams snaps, with Ford registering 23 and rookie Davion Taylor chipping in with 14. Those numbers will change on a week-to-week basis, especially for Riley. He served as the Eagles’ second linebacker in Week 1.

“We’ll just kind of monitor it based off of week-to-week, I would say,” added Fipp. “Also kind of where our roster is at.”

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