Eagles

Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

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Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

On offense, they ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring, just three points out of second. On defense, they went nine straight games allowing 21 or fewer points.

No wonder 2013 was such a turnaround season for the Eagles, going from 4-12 in Andy Reid’s final season to 10-6 and NFC East champs in Chip Kelly’s first.

Explosive on offense, promising on defense.

Which leaves only … pathetic on special teams.

So while the Eagles’ offseason was dominated by DeSean Jackson’s release, a free agency season absent of big names, Jason Peters’ new contract and a draft heavy in wide receivers and defense, the Eagles quietly have been trying to upgrade one of the NFL’s worst special teams units.

They didn’t land any big names during free agency -- Malcolm Jenkins was the biggest -- but the Eagles did add safety Chris Maragos, linebacker Bryan Braman and nickel corner Nolan Carroll, who are all being counted on to be special teams stalwarts.

They added Darren Sproles to punch up the offense, but he also has a strong track record in the return game.

They added some fast, physical players in the draft who should be contributors right away on special teams -- Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds and probably even Marcus Smith.

They even brought in an undrafted free-agent placekicker to challenge one-time fourth-round pick Alex Henery.

And the Eagles hope it all adds up to a much improved special teams group.

“We hope so,” Kelly said. “I think it's been a big emphasis. The addition of Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, guys like that. Nolan Carroll, outstanding special teams players. Bringing Darren in here was the one thing we really thought, besides being used as a running back and as a receiver coming out of the back field, I think his ability as a returner, I think that's huge.”

The Eagles were among the NFL’s worst on special teams a year ago -- 25th in kick return average, 27th in punt return average, 19th covering kicks and 20th in field goal accuracy.

According to Rick Gosselin’s famed annual special teams rankings that appear annually in the Dallas Morning News, which take into account 22 different special teams categories, the Eagles overall ranked 28th in the league in special teams efficiency, ahead of only the Raiders, Lions, Redskins and Panthers.

“It was a concerted effort to get bigger and faster on special teams,” general manager Howie Roseman said.

“I know just in kind of Phase Two [of the offseason workout program] you get an opportunity to see guys run down the field, and you see a guy like Bryan Braman.

"Our fans are going to love Bryan Braman. Bryan Braman, and I say this with all due respect, is out of his mind. He's 6-4 and he's 260 pounds and he's telling me that he can run like a 4.3 but he pulled his hamstring when he ran at the regional workout. I've got to believe him. He is like almost a freak of nature when he runs down.

“[Plus] Nolan Carroll, and you add them to Brandon Boykin and Maragos and then the guys we've gotten here [during the draft]. I think we've certainly upgraded the talent level, and I think that's one of the things that hurts your special teams is [when the] back end of the roster [isn’t] effective.”

For all that’s made about Kelly’s groundbreaking up-tempo offensive philosophy, he’s constantly talking about special teams.

Huff knows how important special teams is to Kelly. He played under him from 2010 through 2012.

“I played special teams a lot,” Huff said. “Coming from Oregon that’s all they preach: ‘If you want to get to the next level, you have to contribute on special teams.’

“I had my opportunity to contribute on special teams and I did everything I could to contribute on special teams. Special teams is a role on any team.”

It’s tough to find a move the Eagles made this year that wasn’t made with special teams in mind.

Whether it was the draft picks, free-agent acquisitions or even the decisions to part ways with core special teamers such as Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, everything was done with an eye on special teams.

“That was a real conscious decision that we had to upgrade really our coverage units in terms of how we were doing things,” Kelly said. “We felt like with Nolan Carroll, Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman, with some of these guys that we drafted that that's really going to help us.

“At times when we're looking at players, we have a dot on their tag so that the person with the dot is going to be a core special teams player. ...

“So far with the decisions that we're making, we're erring that way. If there are two guys that are equal and this guy's a better teams player, we're going to take the guy that's the better teams player.”

Former Eagles Dawkins, Owens named Hall of Fame semifinalists

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Former Eagles Dawkins, Owens named Hall of Fame semifinalists

Brian Dawkins and Terrell Owens are again one step closer to making it to the Hall of Fame.

Both former Eagles were named as two of 27 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2018 class.

Their inclusion on the list Tuesday is not a surprise at all. Both were on the list of finalists last year, but did not make the 2017 class to the dismay of Eagles fans.

The 15 finalists will be announced during January and Hall of Fame voters will cast their votes for the inductees on Super Bowl Saturday.

This is Dawkins' second year of eligibility and Owens' third. Traditionally it has been difficult for safeties to make it into the Hall of Fame, which might have hurt Dawkins. Owens has likely been hurt by his abrasive personality. Both are very worthy candidates and have a shot to be inducted this year.

Joining them on the list of semifinalists are six who made it on their first years of eligibility: DB Ronde Barber, OG Steve Hutchinson, LB Ray Lewis, LB Brian Urlacher, WR Randy Moss and DL Richard Seymour.

The original list of 108 nominees was cut down to 27 semifinalists instead of 25 because of ties.

Here is the full list of semifinalists:

S Steve Atwater
CB/S Ronde Barber
OT Tony Boselli
WR Isaac Bruce
S LeRoy Butler
Coach Don Coryell
RB Roger Craig
S Brian Dawkins
G Alan Faneca
WR Torry Holt
OG Steve Hutchinson
OT Joe Jacoby
RB Edgerrin James
Coach Jimmy Johnson
CB Ty Law
LB Ray Lewis
FS John Lynch
C/G Kevin Mawae
LB Karl Mecklenburg
WR Randy Moss
DE Leslie O'Neal
WR Terrell Owens
DE Simeon Rice
DE/DT Richard Seymour
LB Brian Urlacher
CB Everson Walls
WR Hines Ward

Former Eagles CB Dexter McDougle signs with Saints

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Former Eagles CB Dexter McDougle signs with Saints

Former Eagles cornerback Dexter McDougle has found a home with another one of the top teams in the NFC. 

McDougle on Tuesday signed with the New Orleans Saints, who, like the Eagles, are also on an eight-game winning streak. 

McDougle, 26, came to the Eagles in a trade with the Jets for safety Terrence Brooks in late August and even signed him to a one-year extension in early September. 

The former third-round pick in 2014 played more than the Eagles likely anticipated during his eight games active in Philly. 

In total, McDougle played 55 defensive snaps, and just three weeks ago played 32 of them in a pinch against the 49ers. He also played 135 special teams snaps (50 percent through the Denver game). 

McDougle was waived last week when the Eagles brought in linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. McDougle was expendable as Ronald Darby returned from his dislocated ankle. The only game McDougle was inactive was the opener, before Darby's injury. 

Without McDougle, the Eagles still have plenty of corners. They have five on the roster, including Jaylen Watkins, who is listed as a safety but has played corner this season.