He is all about energy and precision and a demand for excellence. Watching a Bobby April special teams practice is unlike anything the Eagles have ever experienced. There are all kinds of inventive drills, an extreme emphasis on attention to detail and there is April. All April. Chatter. Banter. Enthusiasm in the way he communicates to his players.
For a shade over an hour every couple of days between now and the start of the regular season, the Eagles will devote their practice time to special teams and special teams only. Once the regular season starts, April will do his thing before practice as the Eagles go from one week to the next in search of victories.
There is something, um, special in the air with this group. April comes with an unrivaled track record in special teams and he has been given the keys to the gate by head coach Andy Reid, who stands off to the side while April and assistant coaches Jeff Nixon, Doug Pederson and David Culley help out. Make no mistake, though, this is April's group and he is enjoying every minute of it.
"With Coach April, it is serious, serious time to prepare and you know that what he has done in the past is going to work here," says long snapper Jon Dorenbos. "He's great. Everyone respects him, his history and his accomplishments. We're pumped up to play for him. I'm looking forward to seeing what we do on special teams."
The Eagles weren't bad at all last year on special teams under coordinator Ted Daisher. Dorenbos, placekicker David Akers and punt return man DeSean Jackson made the Pro Bowl. There were too many penalties, for sure, but the Eagles were explosive in the return game and they were a respected group all the way around.
But when April became available after his time with Buffalo ended, Andy Reid wasted no time reaching out and adding April to the staff. It is nearly time, then, to see what April is all about, to see the next steps on special teams. As we focus on offense and new quarterback Kevin Kolb and the many faces of a revamped defense, we should also look very closely at special teams.
Why can't the Eagles, if they become one of the very best special teams groups in the league, help themselves enormously by dominating in the game's third phase?
"If there is one thing I would like them to do on a consistent basis," said April, walking back to the locker room after Sunday afternoon's practice, "it is to push the envelope on everything they do. No matter where you are at, just try to get a little bit better every day. If I go up and fly the speed of sound, I want to fly one mile an hour faster. If I can do that, it is all you can ask.
"I've had a really good rapport with players and I've had really good success, so I think the way I'm doing things works. This group, I really like what we have. I can't wait to see us live on Friday against Jacksonville (in the preseason opener). Some of these guys, who have been through it before, they're chomping to get going and to hit somebody."
April thinks he has "a lot of talent" on the roster. The roster rests at 80 players and until the team is down to 53, April won't truly have the chance to identify his core players. But he has been around long enough to have a sense. And his sense is telling him good things about the Eagles and what they should be on special teams.
When you begin with Jackson on punt returns and Ellis Hobbs on kickoff returns, and when Akers and Dorenbos are two of the best in the game, well, it's easy to get excited.
What April wants to see is toughness and urgency from his special teams groups -- in every phase. They are to play hard-nosed, disciplined, passionate football. They are to go out and win the battles. April is big on peppering his players with emotional, inspirational messages. They have sacrificed to get to this point in their careers. They have all been stars on the football field.
How much more are they willing to sacrifice to win every play on special teams?
"The old timers in boxing used to say, 'Will beats skill every day.' Now, we think we have some skill here, a lot of it, so we have to combine the will and the skill here and go out on every play and be prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to win that play," said April. "We get a chance to find out on Friday night."
There will be roster battles won and lost based on special teams play. Who is the third halfback on this team? Eldra Buckley is taking the reps in practice, and Charles Scott is competing, but both have a chance to earn big-time kudos by playing well on special teams. How about wide receiver? Hank Baskett, Riley Cooper and Kelly Washington appear to be waging a roster battle for two spots. It is very possible that the deciding straw is how they play on special teams in the preseason.
Linebackers generally form the core of special teams, and April is looking forward to seeing how youngsters like Jamar Chaney and Keenan Clayton compete on Friday night. Tracy White is back on the roster largely because he is so good on special teams.
"Coach April's special teams in Buffalo were great," said Hobbs, who played in New England and was a standout on kickoff returns. "They did a great job on me with their scheme. It was the best I had seen and they always gave us trouble."
We will find out more on Friday. To date, the special teams have been organized in practice, spirited with their play and skillful with their precision. Preseason games are generally chaotic with players coming on and off the field and the challenge of getting the right players in the right spots is as great now as it ever is during a season.
The expectations are high on special teams. The Eagles feel they made one of the most significant additions of the off-season when they signed April. How many wins will his presence mean to the team? That chapter hasn't been written, but Friday will be a great sneak peek.