Eagles

Under Doug Pederson, much should change for Eagles — except special teams

Under Doug Pederson, much should change for Eagles — except special teams

The offense will huddle.

The defense is back to a 4-3.

The Eagles' special teams ... should remain the same.

Oftentimes when a new head coach comes in, he’ll bring in an entirely new coaching staff, replacing most, if not all, of the coordinators. But Doug Pederson chose to keep Dave Fipp around, and for good reason. 

“[Pederson] still lets Fipp do what Fipp’s done for the last three or four years,” special teams stalwart Trey Burton said Monday. “I don’t think anything has changed.”

Two players that haven't changed are returner Darren Sproles and punter Donnie Jones. Sproles has made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist the last two seasons. Jones in the last three years has become the franchise's record-holder in both net and gross punting average. 

In 2014, the Eagles’ special teams ranked No. 1 in the league, according to columnist Rick Gosselin, who annually ranks special teams for The Dallas Morning News.

That year, Sproles, kicker Cody Parkey and long-snapper Jon Dorenbos all made the Pro Bowl for special teams.

Last year, the Eagles finished second in punt return average (11.4) and sixth in net punting average (41.6). 

But special teams is more than just kickers and return men. The guys behind the scenes — guys like Burton, Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman and Najee Goode — are what help make this unit so great.

Last year the Eagles recorded three special teams TDs and finished fifth in Gosselin's rankings.

“We were one of the top special teams in the league last year, so our main goal is to try to stay in the top five,” cornerback Denzel Rice said. “Our focus level is the same for the most part.”

Rice is on the cusp of cracking the Eagles' roster, so with seemingly more depth at the cornerback position, standing out on special teams may be his ticket to a roster spot.

“Special teams is special for a reason,” Rice said. “We have to hone in on our technique and our focus so that we can excel during the season.”

Burton has carved out a role on special teams after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He logged 420 special teams snaps last year, second most on the team behind Braman, and led the team in special teams tackles with 19.

“It’s extremely important,” Burton said. “In my scenario, I was the fourth tight end, so there was no chance of me playing on offense. You just have to understand your role and a lot of times it’s on special teams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

It didn't take long to see special teams to make an impact this preseason. On the opening kickoff last Thursday against the Buccaneers, Goode punched the ball out, and Maragos recovered it inside the 20-yard line.

“I think it’s been really cool to see how [Pederson] values special teams,” Maragos said. “The importance of field position, he understands what our special teams unit can do from an explosive standpoint and helping our team win ballgames. He’s all on board, he gives us the time we need to go out there and practice.”

Record-setting Zach Ertz named to second straight Pro Bowl team

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Record-setting Zach Ertz named to second straight Pro Bowl team

Zach Ertz, who’s having one of the greatest seasons ever by an NFL tight end, was named Tuesday night to his second straight Pro Bowl team.
 
With two games remaining, Ertz is already the fourth tight end in NFL history with 100 receptions in a season.

Fletcher Cox and Brandon Brooks will also represent the Eagles in the Pro Bowl.
 
Ertz made his first Pro Bowl team last year, when he had 74 catches for 824 yards, but he didn’t play in the game, since the Eagles were in the Super Bowl a week later. This year, Ertz was selected as a starter.
 
Ertz has a franchise-record 101 catches for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns with games remaining Sunday against the Texans at the Linc and a week from Sunday against the Redskins at AT&T Stadium.
 
He’s third among all players in catches this year, behind only Saints receiver Michael Thomas (109) and Vikings receiver Adam Thielen (105).
 
Ertz’s six TD catches this year are tied for third-most in the NFL with former teammate Trey Burton and two others.
 
Ertz needs 10 catches in the Eagles’ last two games to tie Jason Witten’s NFL record of 110 catches in a season, which he set in 2012.
 
Ertz also has the third-most catches ever by a tight end in his first six years, with 422. He needs 12 to tie Jimmy Graham for the most ever by a tight end in his first six years. Graham had 434 from 2010 through 2015. Witten had 429 from 2003 through 2008.
 
Technically, Ertz is the first Eagles tight end selected to consecutive Pro Bowl teams since Chad Lewis from 2001 through 2003. But Lewis was hand-picked as the NFC’s “need player” by NFC coach Andy Reid the last two times he made the Pro Bowl team. Ertz is really the Eagles’ first repeat Pro Bowl tight end since Keith Jackson went to three straight from 1988 through 1990.

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Eagles might face Colt McCoy in important Week 17 matchup

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Eagles might face Colt McCoy in important Week 17 matchup

The Eagles have their hands full this weekend with the Houston Texans, but that Week 17 matchup against Washington just got a little more interesting. 

Because not only is there a good chance that game could be for a playoff berth, but it also looks like the Redskins might have Colt McCoy back. 

You’ll remember that McCoy broke his fibula against the Eagles at the Linc on Dec. 3, but there’s a chance he’ll be able to play in Week 17 at FedEx Field. 

According to our friends down at NBC Sports Washington, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was asked the odds of McCoy’s return for Week 17 on a scale of 1-10. 

“I’d say 10 for Colt,” Gruden said. “That’s just my opinion. I just think Colt’s a crazy dude.” 

Gruden also said it wouldn’t surprise him either way and Washington won’t force him back into the lineup if he’s not ready. Ultimately, it will be the doctors’ call. It would be pretty impressive if McCoy missed just three full games after breaking a fibula, but it looks like there’s a chance. 

McCoy, of course, took over at quarterback when starter Alex Smith suffered a gruesome injury back in November. Since McCoy went down, the Redskins already tried Mark Sanchez and are now on QB No. 4 for the season in Josh Johnson, who led them to a 16-13 win over the Jaguars on Sunday. In that game, Johnson completed 16 of 25 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.

Including the Texans game when Smith got hurt, the Redskins are 1-4 since Smith’s injury. 

In the game against the Eagles, McCoy was 4 for 4 with 50 passing yards before he broke his fibula and had to leave. The previous week, he threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions in a two-point loss to the Cowboys. 

If nothing else, McCoy knows Jay Gruden’s offense much better than Johnson. McCoy has been in Washington since 2014, Gruden’s first year as head coach. 

Right now, the Eagles and Redskins both have a 7-7 record. Both would need Minnesota to lose to jump the Vikings in the wild-card race. If the Vikings lose this weekend at Detroit and the Eagles and Redskins win this weekend, that Week 17 matchup would be for a playoff berth.

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