Eagles Training Camp Preview: The Special Teams
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The constant turnover of NFL rosters affects special-teams coaches more than the rest of their peers, something Dave Fipp admitted this spring when talking about the upcoming season with 973espn.com
"This is a difficult time of year because really a lot of things have to sort out on the depth chart offensively and defensively," Fipp explained. "I'm sure those [other coaches] stand in here and say 'well, we don't really have a depth chart yet' and all that and I hear the same thing in our meetings so it's like well until you have your's I can't really have mine."
That's the life of any special teams coach who is asked to build a number of units based on what's going on with the offense and defense.
Usually, there's a core of players Fipp can count on and that's the case with his specialists where there is not expected to be any turnover. The strong-legged Cam Johnson and Jake Elliott will continue to do the punting and place-kicking respectively with more consistency set as the goal for both, while Rick Lovato is back to handle the long-snapping duties.
Some of Fipp's core coverage players from last season like LaRoy Reynolds and D.J. Alexander have moved on, while punt returner Darren Sproles is unlikely to be back and the kickoff-return job could also be in the flux, however.
That's just business as usual for Fipp, who didn't even have Reynolds as this time last year due to injury rehab while Alexander was still in Seattle until the Eagles picked him off waivers as the roster-cut deadline.
"As you well know every year the roster changes over so much on the back end," Fipp said. "I mean the whole roster changes over so much anyway and then on the back end, in our world, the guys who were really playing a lot of plays for us, it changes a bunch. So, we got a lot to figure out."
There are some obvious paths, starting with options like L.J. Fort and Andrew Sendejo, veteran free-agent signings who have had a lot of success on special teams in the past.
"I would say those two guys on the list are guys who are gonna come in here and probably gonna end up having a big role for us," Fipp acknowledged.
"Probably" is the key word, however, because anything can happen on special teams and sometimes it has nothing to do with actual special teams.
"Right now you're just preparing for a lot of possibilities," Fipp explained. "What if this happens and who would end up being the wing on punt. OK, we need to get a handful of guys ready, not just the two best guys but a handful of guys ready to play that spot. What if the long-snapper goes down? Who are our options there? Let's get a few guys ready and target a couple guys. Do we feel good that at least one of these guys is going to make the roster, we do, OK so at least we will have an option there in that situation."
In many ways, Fipp's job description is preparing for every contingency without really knowing what's going to be in his toolbox.
For instance, if Sendejo gets bumped up to a starting safety spot due to injury, perhaps his special teams snaps have to be curtailed. Ditto for Fort at LB.
"I would say right now, a lot of what you're doing is contingency planning and trying to get guys to play a bunch of different spots so that you do have options in case all of a sudden, going into Week 3 somebody gets hurt, this guy can no longer play that spot so we gotta move this guy from that spot," Fipp assessed. "He's at least done it before. Now, he might not have done it recently but at least he's done it before and been in that situation."
It's almost like a who's-on-first routine from Fipp but it's a controlled chaos the coach has thrived on since arriving in Philadelphia back in 2013.
P Cam Johnston - Strong-legged Aussie figures to only get better when it comes to directional punting.
PK Jake Elliott - The powerful leg in the diminutive package returns with a goal of adding more consistency.
LS - Rick Lovato - Poor Madden rating aside, Lovato is exactly what you want from a long snapper, a guy you never notice.
PR1- DeSean Jackson - The aging game-breaker figures to get the nod in high-leverage situations but will be used judiciously.
KR1 - Does it really matter in the modern NFL? The over/under on KR returns during the entire season is 15 and you can cobble things together with Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood types
GRADE: 7.0 [Fipp is one of the best ST coaches in the NFL and is always going to have his units in the black when measured against the rest of the league.]
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen