Jalen Reagor had the biggest play of his young career on Sunday afternoon when he took a punt return to the house, 73 yards for a touchdown.
It was an exciting play that briefly got the Eagles back into that football game.
As excited as the Eagles were to see their first-round pick rip off a long touchdown, they still aren’t prepared to make Reagor their primary punt returner. According to special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, the rotation between Reagor and Greg Ward Jr. will continue.
“I still see us using the combination of Greg Ward and Jalen,” Fipp said on Tuesday. “I think Jalen’s done a great job, obviously. He’s got to continue to work on catching the ball. He’s put two on the ground now this season for us. So he’s gotta continue to work on that. There’s no question about that. He was out for five weeks there. During those five weeks, he had that thumb injury so he wasn’t able to catch balls. Wasn’t able to catch a pass, let alone a punt in those five weeks.
“We brought him back in and we got him going. When he came back, he was also playing, the last five weeks, he’s been playing 77% of the offensive snaps or something like that. So he’s definitely got a lot on his plate and then obviously his punt return role. So I think we’ll just manage him the best we can and keep trying to take advantage of his skill set and his ability to make big plays for us.
“At the same time, just manage his load. I still see Greg being a part of that, going back there and helping us. He’s done a great job of making really good decisions and getting positive yards for us also. I feel good about both of those guys being a part of this thing and helping each other out.”
This season, Reagor officially has just three punt returns while Ward has 15.
It is probably pretty frustrating for Eagles fans to see Reagor not take over the job full-time, especially after he ripped off that long return and showed just how explosive he is. Reagor got up to 20.84 mph on that play.
So why won’t the Eagles go to him full-time? Well it seems like there are two answers.
1. His hands haven’t been perfect. As Fipp mentioned, Reagor has put a couple of balls on the ground this year. While the muff on this punt return touchdown might have actually helped — think about that legendary DeSean Jackson play — if Reagor muffs a punt in a different situation, it could be disastrous.
Even dating back to training camp, muffed punts were a problem for Reagor. He put a few on the ground. So this doesn’t seem to be a new problem.
Heck, his best return from college looked awfully similar to the one we saw on Sunday afternoon and the one from Jackson several years go.
This season, the Eagles have typically used Reagor in positions where they think the returner has a chance to break one and they’ve put Ward back there deep in Eagles’ territory whenever they need the more sure-handed of the two.
It’s something Reagor is aware of and working on.
“Basically just going back to practice catching punts and doing whatever I can with Coach Fipp,” he said.
2. Reagor has a lot on his plate … Fipp’s words, not mine. Reagor has been back off IR for five games and in those five games, he has played 255 offensive snaps out of 331 (77.0%). When Fipp mentions workload, it’s important to note that he’s talking about snaps, not targets or receptions. Because even when Reagor isn’t catching the ball, he’s running and blocking and that has a cumulative effect too.
“We’re going to balance those guys out the best we can,” Fipp said. “I don’t think you’ll find too many punt returners, the primary punt returners, with that big of an offensive role. I could be wrong in that but I think it’s difficult to do.”
While it’s true that it’s rare that a team’s primary punt returner has a significant role on offense or defense, it’s not quite as rare as Fipp made it out to be. On top of that, Reagor missed five games on IR and is still a 21-year-old rookie.
There are some primary punt returners in the NFL who play large roles outside of special teams. Here are the top five in the league, by descending playing time on offense or defense:
77.9% — Jabrill Peppers, Giants
75.6% — Keelan Cole, Jaguars
69.0% — Christian Kirk, Cardinals
65.3% — CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
50.8% — Hunter Renfrow, Raiders
“I took every rep [on offense] in college and I took every rep at punt return, as well,” Reagor said. “I can do it up here. It’s a coach’s decision, it’s not my decision, and when my number is called, I’ll be sure to make the most of my opportunity.”
He made the most of his opportunity against the Packers.
On that particular touchdown return from Reagor, Fipp made sure to credit a bunch of guys. Grayland Arnold and Avonte Maddox double-teamed a gunner. Michael Jacquet, K’Von Wallace and Duke Riley took care of the other gunner. Wallace ended up having two blocks on the play. Alex Singleton and Richard Rodgers were out there as injury replacements and did their jobs.
So it was a team effort and Fipp made sure to emphasize that. He was proud of that entire unit for the touchdown.
But it’s clear it doesn’t happen without Reagor’s explosion. And it might make sense to give him some more opportunities back there.
“My decision-making is to put our football team in the best possible position we can put them in on any given play,” Fipp said. “So we’ll continue to balance the rep load. I think some of it has to do with the amount of opportunity you’re going to have on any given return. Not all returns are the same. … When we think we have an opportunity for him to make an impact in the game, we’ll try to get him in there as much as we can.”
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