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Special Teams Not Special Yet

April Knows Special Teams Must Be Better

By Lance Epstein

On Monday, Special Team Coordinator Bobby April talked with the media. One of the biggest concerns facing the Eagles heading into the regular season in kickoff and punt coverage.

Each preseason game has seen the unit give up a big return or shoot themselves in the foot with a costly penalty. Additionally, if the Eagles are going to be a playoff team, then special teams’ coverage must force opponents to sustain long drives in order to score and not make the defense play on a short field.

The coverage team is not the only issue on April’s plate. He and Head Coach Andy Reid must make a decision on whether to use starting WR DeSean Jackson and CB Ellis Hobbs as returners.

April addressed these two topics and more at his press conference. Here is what he said:

On head coach Andy Reid’s decision to use WR DeSean Jackson the team’s punt returner and CB Ellis Hobbs being the team’s kick returner:

"Well, those two guys are very good, so I was hoping that's what would happen. I think they're our best two guys, at least as this point. You've heard me say a bunch of times, you like to get the ball in the best players' hands. That usually gives you the greatest chance to win. There's other considerations and that's a tough decision for him, real tough decision for him, because those guys are valuable, and 60 other plays. So, it's a tough decision, but it's a commitment to have the best players on the field and there may still be some adjustments, some guys can rise up and maybe play as good or maybe play better, I don't know if we have anybody that can play better, but if we would or could we would be better at that position."

On RB J.J. Arrington getting a chance to do kickoffs since he is healthy:

"Yeah, (head coach) Andy (Reid) and I talked this morning about that. I'll let him make the announcement on that, but certainly, that's a great question because he and I just talked about J.J. this morning and there's a real strong probability that he will get some work returning kicks."

On what he sees as the issue with kickoff coverage:

"I wouldn't say the personnel is not good enough to do well in the coverage. We have had a couple of moments where we covered pretty good, we've gotten down there. (K David) Akers is kicking okay. He hasn't worked on his kickoffs. There's a couple of things his injury has probably hurt. We were offsides, it's been tough to time up with him, because he's not kicking and he's our only kicker. That offside penalty hurt us, because we had good coverage. I don't blame the person who did it, more of the situation that he just didn't get the chance to work and he was a little bit overly aggressive. We just have to do a better job of recognizing the return, do a better job of presenting what the other team is doing, we really concentrate a lot on ourselves and the concepts of beating the other guy, but we haven't done that as well either. We've gotten down there, there are a lot of times it doesn't matter what you do scheme-wise, when those two lines come together they eventually will, you're not really tricking a whole lot of people, but maybe adapting and adjusting, but you're not tricking a lot of people. It's like when the bell rings, when the guy comes out of the corner he knows who he's got, and he knows who he's got to beat, and he's just got to beat him. We just have to do a better job of presenting how to beat him and give them a better opportunity to win. Obviously, we haven't done it, because I believe in our players, and like I said, we had a couple of flashes in there that were just a little bit better than last week, the first three kicks, of course the third one was a penalty, and then they pushed it out after the penalty. I think fortunately for us, we've played two really good returners. This (Bengals CB) Adam Jones is very good. He's been out of the league because of some other issues but he's a top flight returner. A lot of our guys who have played on those coverages are probably not used to that kind of talent level. And this (Chiefs DB) Javier Arenas, I don't think anybody's had a better college career returning kicks than him, so this has really been good for us to face two outstanding guys and you've got to elevate your play. Competition will make you better, and the opponent's competition will, too. Hopefully we'll get better from that, if we don't then I just have to dig and do a better job and just keep elevating guys."

On the kickoff coverage being blown out of proportion by the media or if it is a valid concern:

"I will say that, unfortunately, the units I've had in the places I've been, we have continued to improve, and that's our mantra really, we want to push the envelope, we want to keep getting better. I'm not worried about what you did, I want you to use that to prepare to perform better, and if they're not doing that I've got a problem with them. If they're not working to improve. I don't care if they're All-Pro, if they're not working to improve, I really kind of have a problem with them. I want them to be better than they are today, I want them to be better tomorrow, so I see some slight improvement, I definitely do, but it's not good enough right now, no it's not. We've given up too many big plays. I think as a special teams at this point, there's a lot of things we could have done to improve the probability of offensive and defensive success in the game. A lot of plays, and that's counting the penalty when they got the first down and they went down and scored. There's a lot of things we can do. Most of it, when you do it, it goes unnoticed by most people, and a lot of things kind of goes unnoticed when you don't do it, but I certainly know the difference between a real quality, sharp, crisp game that increases the probability of winning the game, and at this point, we're just not quite doing that. I think our punting game has been fantastic. I think our punting game has been fantastic. (Akers) has been fantastic. I mean's he's a big reason we've won two games, but there are so many others things that could increase the probability of winning, give our offense and defense a much greater probability of being successful, much greater."

On the pressure to figure out and correct the kickoff coverage:

"If I say I don't, it's like I don't care. That's not necessarily the case. I don't necessarily any feel pressure, though, I think we have to do better, I always think we have to do better, that's the deal. Our whole deal is to push the envelope. No matter where we're at we need to push the envelope. If we've got a quart's worth of talent, then we need to fill up the whole quart. If we've got a gallon's worth of talent, we've got to fill the whole gallon. If we've got a 55-gallon drum full of talent, we need to fill that too. So where we're at, are we getting better? That's the issue. It's not where we leave each week; it's when we go out there, we've come back better than we were and hopefully that's the case. I've seen some slight improvement, it's incremental, because it was not good initially, it may not look like it, but I've seen some improvement."

On if the preseason will be an indicator of the regular season:

"No, it's not. It usually is not reflective of seasonal success."

On it not being an indicator due to players playing there who are not on the team when the season begins:

"There's a lot of different players and you're doing a lot of different things. You don't have any real concrete deal going, and consequently, you're a little bit out of flux, but the other team's in the same situation. I'm not sure why, but I've just never been a coach that's had good success in the preseason. There's been some flashes, but generally, we start out, and as we go, we get better. And maybe I preach it too much, maybe I say 'our last game's got to be our best game. Our next game's got to be better than the last.' You have to do everything to make that possible. Maybe, it's a self-fulfilled prophecy, I don't know, but it seems to always be that way."

On making the spectacular play because a player is trying to make the team can actually hurt the team and them by not making the play they should:

"I think that's a very good point. I think I've thought at some point to tell those guys that they've got to use the right judgment. It is aggression, but it isn't just total-risk aggression. I think in a lot of cases, we talk so much about keeping in stride length going down in coverage. Even when an obstacles there, when you hit it, you hit it at top speed. We have gone around a lot of blocks. We've gone around a lot of blocks and ended up behind the ball. We also need to tackle better, too. There's been a lot of cases where we've actually hit the guy and then we haven't brought him down. That's a tough one from a special teams standpoint, from the standpoint of practicing tackling. We've done some, but not a lot. When there's a lot of offensive players it's really tough. We've tackled bags, and things like that, but we haven't full-speed tackled. I think that helps you, too. Like I said, those two guys that we played are quality runners. We hit them a couple of times and didn't bring them down, so it was a good learning lesson for us."

On during the Chiefs game the Eagles getting a delay of game penalty:

"The delay of game penalty was our left corner on the punt team, he flinched, you can't try to purposely make the other guy go in motion or not be set after he's set. So they call it a delay of game. We didn't do anything while they had the ball to delay the game, but that's what they call that penalty. Our corner, he was facing the gunner on the left side. We were going to return this way, and he did one of those deals, and it's illegal. They cut that out maybe five, six years ago, that you can't do any of that kind of deal. We know the rule, we just didn't execute it."

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