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Offseason Preview: Special Teams

Posted Jan 22, 2012

Here, we conclude our position-by-position review and preview of what's in store for the upcoming offseason with the special teams ...

2011 Season In Review

The Eagles made a bold move last offseason allowing two of the most prolific specialists in franchise history - kicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca - to leave through free agency. The team gambled on a pair of rookies - kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry - to replace them, marking the first time since 1979 that the Eagles would trot out a rookie kicker and punter to start the season.

To the Eagles' credit, the moves paid off.

Henery was selected in the fourth-round on the 2011 NFL Draft. It was the highest draft pick used on a kicker since New England tabbed Stephen Gostkowski in 2006 with a fourth-round pick. The most accurate kicker in NCAA history, Henery had a smooth transition to the NFL where he set the record this past season for the most accurate rookie in league history with a field goal success rate of 88.9 percent. Henery connected on his final 16 field goal attempts, which is the third-longest streak in team history. One of those field goals was a season-long 51-yard attempt.

With 118 points, Henery set the Eagles rookie scoring record.

Henry, the punter, was the winner of the Ray Guy Award at Florida, which is given to the top punter in college football. Unlike Henery, the Eagles did not draft Henry, but signed him as a rookie free agent. However, the Eagles did not bring in competition for Henry having faith in the rookie.

Boasting five games with a net punting average of 40.0-or-more, Henry finished the year with a 36.9 net punting average. For comparison sake, Rocca had a 34.5 net punting average in his rookie season of 2007. Henry had a gross punting average of 42.9 yards and finished the season strong with a career-high 50.3-yard gross average against the Redskins. Henry had 19 punts inside the 20-yard line with a season-high four against Arizona.

Another rookie was featured on kickoff returns as Dion Lewis, the fifth-round selection out of Pitt, averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return with a long of 33 yards. In all, Lewis totaled 669 kickoff return yards as a rookie.

On punt returns, it was not a rookie, but a Pro Bowl returner in DeSean Jackson. His best return of the season came against the Giants, which should be no surprise given his Miracle at the New Meadowlands in 2010. The 51-yard return in the Nov. 20 win set up a touchdown. However, Jackson, overall, struggled as a punt returner averaging 6.8 yards per return. His previous low was 8.8 yards per return as a rookie in 2008. This was also Jackson's first season without a punt return touchdown.

Another Pro Bowl player who did not have a down year was long snapper Jon Dorenbos. Special teams coordinator Bobby April credited the 10th-year veteran with having played his best NFL season in 2011.

Impressive Stat

Not only was Alex Henery's 88.9 percent success on field goal attempts an NFL record for rookies, but it was also the best in Eagles history. Also of note, of the kickers in the top 10 for most points in a single season in franchise history, Henery joined the list with the fewest amount of field goal attempts.

End of Season Depth Chart

Kicker: Alex Henery
Punter: Chas Henry
Holder: Chas Henry
Punt Returner: 1. DeSean Jackson (UFA), 2. Jeremy Maclin, 3. Chad Hall
Kickoff Returner: 1. Dion Lewis, 2. Ronnie Brown (UFA)
Long Snapper: 1. Jon Dorenbos, 2. Brent Celek

To Be Answered

What type of jump will the Hen(e)rys make from year one to year two?

For Alex Henery, one area that Henery can improve upon is on kickoffs. Last season, Henery was a respectable 19th in the league as 82.1 percent of his kickoffs reached the end zone. He was tied for 17th in total touchbacks, but 26th in touchback percentage (38.1 percent). To highlight the difference that getting an extra 5 yards for kickoffs benefitted kickers this year thanks to the rule change, Henery's touchback percentage would have been second in the league in 2010.

Chas Henry's biggest challenge is whether he can be more consistent as a punter in his second season. If Henry can replicate his end-of-the-season performance against Washington on a consistent basis, he will be one of the best in the league. One stat that bodes well for Henry is his predecessor, Sav Rocca, improved 3.4 yards on his net average from year one to year two. That kind of jump would give Henry the franchise record.

One area the Eagles need to address is how to get more explosive at the returner positions. DeSean Jackson is coming off a down year as a punt returner and he's a free agent. Dion Lewis was serviceable as a kickoff returner, but he'll either need to make a jump in his second season or not take as many kickoffs out of the end zone. Lewis had 11 returns of 10-19 yards and with most of those coming out of the end zone, which means the Eagles exhausted more energy for less favorable field position. However, credit Lewis as his 16 returns of 20-29 yards on kickoffs was tied for 12th in the league.

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