One of the true position battles throughout Training Camp and the preseason took place on special teams, where Chas Henry, the incumbent, eventually won out over veteran punter Mat McBriar, a former All-Pro with the Dallas Cowboys. On Thursday, special teams coordinator Bobby April explained the team's decision to move forward with the 23-year-old Henry.
"I think there were a lot of factors in that one," April said. "We charted everything through camp and in the preseason games. They both had an equal amount of punts, and both of them did pretty good. Chas had a shorter field, and that was one of the things that we really wanted to make sure that he did well. He wasn't as good as we needed him to be a year ago. He worked on the short game, really worked on it, and that was one big advantage that Mat had over him in terms of his career. Mat is one of the best at that, and we thought that Chas really improved in that area. Throughout camp, he actually punted a little bit better in field punts. Chas' get-off time we wanted to get better, and he came back and it was much improved. They were close on a lot of issues, and we just felt Chas was the best for us and for our future. We went with him."
There was also another major factor in the competition - holding on field goals for Alex Henery. Henry and Henery already had a season's worth of chemistry in that role, while McBriar was trying to work his way into that mix on short notice. Indeed there was one field goal attempt that Henery missed during the preseason that April said could have been partially blamed on the hold.
"That's the biggest play in football to me," April said of the field goal. "That's the most important play. All the really gut-check games and close games come down to that. I feel pretty confident that (Henry) was a little bit better holder. Not much, not much, but he had a little more nimbleness and dexterity with the ball. He was a little bit better setting it down and he got it down a little quicker. He gave Alex a little more opportunity to see it longer. It was a factor for sure. Mat is a good holder, but I just think that Chas is just a little bit better."
Elsewhere on special teams, April is preparing for what he says is the first time in his career where both kick return jobs will be held down by rookies. Undrafted wide receiver Damaris Johnson is in line to be the primary punt returner while fourth-round cornerback Brandon Boykin is the first-team kickoff returner. Boykin was recently promoted to first-team nickel cornerback, so April was asked whether the rookie's defensive responsibilities will pull him away from his duties on special teams, which also include being a gunner punt coverage.
"We're going to try and use him as many plays as possible," April said. "This thing has changed a little bit where the culture says, 'Try not to get him out there very much.' But if the guy is really good, the culture ought to say, 'Try and get him out there as much as possible.' I don't ever think in those terms. (Head) Coach (Andy Reid) has to do what's best for the football team in how he puts everything in play. That's certainly from my perspective, I always want the absolutely best players out there."
That same philosophy goes for the Eagles' deployment of Akeem Jordan on special teams. The starting weakside linebacker, Jordan led the Eagles in special teams production points in 2011 as a member of all four special teams units.
"The way these packages are now, they don't play (the whole game)," said April. "If we have 65 defensive plays, the way all these packages and specialization are, especially with that position, he comes out a lot based on personnel. That personnel that he starts in is basically set up to play against one tight end, two wide receivers, and two backs. That formation is not used nearly as much as it was, even 10 years ago. He comes out a lot and consequently, we use those plays for special teams plays. He's really, next to Colt Anderson, our best special teams player a year ago."
As for Anderson, the Eagles' special teams ace has been a full participant in practice this week despite just coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list following rehab for a torn ACL suffered in Week 13 last season. Anderson has already been ruled out for this week, but he'll be back sooner than was first expected.
"He's been looking pretty good out there," April said. "I thought the guy, at least through the 12 games he played, was the best player that I've seen on tape last year. I'm prejudice, obviously. I thought he was the absolute best special teams player that I had seen in – he makes all our big plays. If he's not making it, he's creating the circumstances for someone else to make a successful play. The quicker we get him back, the better."
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