Donnie Jones

Cameron Johnston settling into role as Eagles punter

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Cameron Johnston settling into role as Eagles punter

As Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata drew a huge crowd around him at Eagles rookie camp last week, there’s a different Australian on the roster who actually has a chance to play this year. 

Not long after Mailata’s giant circle of reporters dissipated, just a few met with punter Cameron Johnston at his locker. The Australian and former Ohio State punter appears to be the guy after Donnie Jones left the team. 

Is he ready for that? 

“Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal,” Johnston said. “This time of the year, you’re just trying to work every single day to be ready for that opportunity.”

Johnston, 26, was with the Eagles last offseason but released at final cuts, making way for Jones to keep his spot for the fifth year in a row. After getting released, Johnston went back to Columbus, Ohio, and worked on the things he learned from his time with the Birds and worked on the things special teams coordinator Dave Fipp stressed. He's the only punter on the Eagles' 90-man roster. 

It won’t be easy to follow Jones as the Eagles’ punter. After all, Jones is probably the best punter in franchise history and during his five-year stint in Philadelphia was one of the best in the league.  

“He was a great punter,” Johnston said. “It was big to be able to learn from him, the punting and the holding and just the tips that he had. He had that long of a career and being that successful, you try to learn as much as you can.”

The holding aspect of Johnston’s job shouldn’t be overlooked either. He spent three years holding for the Buckeyes, but the Eagles have a new kicker from last offseason. Jake Elliott came in after Caleb Sturgis’ injury and won the job. All three specialist positions are held by new owners. 

The goal for Johnston is consistency. He knows the best specialists in the NFL are — more than anything else — consistent. In his eyes, that’s the key to sticking in the NFL. 

Johnston definitely has some talent. During his senior season at Ohio State, he had a 46.7-yard average, good for first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. He also set Buckeye records for punts inside the 20 in his career (109) and in a season (31 in 2015). His career average of 44.9 yards per punt is second in Ohio State history.

It was sometime during those four years at Ohio State that he realized the NFL was a real possibility. 

“When I first moved to an American college, it was just trying to play for Ohio State and do the best you can there and try to win some games,” he said. “And during your time there, you kind of see this as an opportunity and the ultimate goal at the end of it.” 

Johnston is from Geelong, Australia, but his tape reached Ohio State special teams coach Kerry Coombs in the summer of 2013. Johnston, an Australian Rules Football player, had trained at Prokick Australia, based in Melbourne. 

When asked about fellow Aussie Mailata, Johnston said he was excited to see the big guy get drafted and is happy for his opportunity. 

For now, though, it seems like Johnston’s own opportunity is a little closer. 

Donnie Jones still wants to play, gets release from Eagles' reserve/retired list

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Donnie Jones still wants to play, gets release from Eagles' reserve/retired list

So, apparently Donnie Jones isn't quite ready to walk off into the sunset.

After announcing his retirement in late February, the punter on Wednesday requested and received his release from the Eagles' reserve/retired list, his agent Ken Harris told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Jones, who turns 38 years old in July, will now search for a new team ahead of his 15th NFL season.

Known as "Donnie Longball," Jones is the greatest punter in Eagles history. In his five seasons with the team, Jones became the franchise's all-time leader in gross punting average (45.37), net average (40.5) and career punts inside the 20 (138), while winning a Super Bowl ring in his final year (see story).

Jones has played 208 straight games, the third-longest streak in the NFL.

It appears that run isn't done yet.

"I am grateful for all those who have supported me throughout the years," Jones said in a statement back in February (see story). "Specifically, I would like to thank Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, and the entire Eagles organization for allowing me to be a part of their family for the past five seasons. I will truly miss my teammates, coaches, friends, and the best fans in the NFL."

Remembering the origin of Donnie 'Longball' Jones

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Remembering the origin of Donnie 'Longball' Jones

Few punters enjoy the level of fanfare that surrounded Donnie Jones during his five seasons with the Eagles, but he wasn’t always a star.

When Jones signed with the Eagles in 2013, he was just another anonymous free-agent punter. He wouldn’t come to be known as “Donnie Longball” until later that year.

Jones’ rise in popularity began Week 11 against Washington with a 70-yard punt that likely saved the Eagles from a humiliating defeat.

Despite amassing a 24-0 lead after three quarters, the Eagles were running out of gas. Washington scored back-to-back touchdowns to cut the deficit to eight in the fourth quarter, then forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with over three minutes remaining. Another score felt inevitable.

The ensuing punt pinned Washington’s offense at its own 4-yard line, giving a fatigued Eagles defense the margin for error it so desperately needed to close out the win. The drive came within 18 yards of the end zone, where finally Fletcher Cox pressured Robert Griffin III into an ill-advised throw intercepted by Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds remaining.

Jones finished with six punts for 50.7 yards per attempt — a season high. Four of his kicks were downed inside Washington’s 20-yard line, including the bomb at the end to help secure an Eagles victory.

Maybe the Eagles would’ve won without a 70-yard punt. Maybe they wouldn’t have. Either way, Jones could’ve revealed in his 15 minutes of fame, then faded back into relative obscurity, like a lot of specialists.

Except Jones outdid himself in the Eagles’ very next game coming off of a bye week.

If Jones played an exceptional game against Washington, his efforts could be described only as Herculean vs. the Cardinals. And if he was merely one of a handful of heroes in the previous win, he was legitimately the most valuable player the following contest.

The Eagles called upon Jones to punt eight times against the Cardinals, including five straight possessions at one point in the second half. Of those punts, seven were downed inside the opposing 20 — the NFL record is eight — with a 44.3 average and a long of 69.

The Eagles edged the Cardinals by three, 24-21. It wasn’t just one memorable kick. Each time Jones stepped on the field was pivotal.

In those two games alone, Jones pinned 11 of 14 punts inside the opponents’ 20 with a 46.8 average. His kicks totaled 655 yards compared to just three return yards. With that performance, he became the fourth punter in NFL history to win Special Teams Player of the Week in consecutive games and the first since 1999.

Jones became an instant Eagles legend in the process.

It didn’t hurt Jones was the first quality punter the franchise had in years. He remained a model of consistency for the remainder of his Eagles tenure. There also aren't a whole lot at that position — for any team — who ever made quite that level of impact in one game, let alone two.

Jones earned his reputation, he earned his place as an Eagles great, and it’s not at all far-fetched to suggest there might never be another punter as beloved and embraced.