The Eagles special teams will be marked by competition this offseason according to special teams coordinator Bobby April. The most classic, true training camp battle will take place at the punter spot, where second-year incumbent Chas Henry looks to fend off undrafted Kentucky rookie Ryan Tydlacka. In 2011, his rookie season, Henry averaged 42.9 yards per punt, 25th in the league among 31 punters who punted in at least 10 games.
"I think it's a legitimate competition," April said earlier this week. "I think if Ryan does better than (Henry), he'll win the job. Chas is the incumbent and I think Chas right now may be slightly ahead of (Tydlacka), but there are some things they both have to improve on and we have to see some things improved. I think this competition will force the improvement."
Under the radar, meanwhile, is the job of snapping the ball to whichever punter wins the job. Jon Dorenbos has steadily held down the long snapper role ever since joining the Eagles during the 2006 season, even earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2009. But the Eagles brought in undrafted rookie Matt Camilli, a UTEP product like Dorenbos, to provide a push.
"I think that's a legitimate competition too," said April. "Matt is a very good snapper and he's a good athlete, big. He's got good quickness. I think Jon certainly is a very accurate snapper and accuracy's the number one deal. So he'll be a tough guy to beat out from that standpoint, but there are things he's got to improve on. But Matt could beat him out. I mean Matt could play better and if he plays better, that's the way it goes."
While Henry, Tydlacka, Dorenbos and Camilli battle it out, second-year kicker Alex Henery won't be looking over his shoulder. After setting the rookie and franchise record for field goal accuracy in his rookie season, Henery's job is certainly safe. But that doesn't mean he too doesn't have room for improvement.
"He's really done a good job here building a foundation the first year," April said of Henery. "What he did was not easy, to come in as a rookie and kick in this league, because not many guys do it. And he came in and he replaced a guy that had been here a long time. That's not always an easy thing to do. So he did two really tough things and performed well in doing those tough things. I think what I thought of him all along, that he's got the potential to be just an outstanding Eagle for a long time. He's more consistent, he's stronger. He didn't work with Jon (Dorenbos) or Chas (Henry) last offseason, so that was a pretty tough ordeal. I think this deal this offseason, doing some stuff here, being around, working out with (strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin), he's going to be a better kicker. I just think he's got a great career."
Elsewhere on special teams, April and the Eagles will look to find a temporary replacement for coverage standout Colt Anderson, who is rehabbing his way back from a torn ACL. Anderson is hoping to be ready for training camp, but April has to move forward preparing for a plan B. Unfortunately, there's an inherent problem in evaluating special teams prior to Week 1.
"Colt is a tough guy to replace because I think he's one of the best players in the league, special teams players for sure," said April. "We've got some guys who have done a good job. I think Brandon Hughes did a good job in his plays. I thought Riley Cooper got better his second year as a gunner out there. I think Curtis Marsh has got an opportunity to be good. As a gunner, we've got a couple of guys who can do it. But we also make cuts too, so you don't know who exactly is going to be on the team. You just don't know. It's a little bit different if the defense pencils in a guy to be a starting corner, they know he's going to be here. If I pencil in a guy to be a starting gunner, I don't know if he's going to be here. So you're always dealing with a bigger number than just saying this guy or this guy. You have to anticipate. And it's tough to give the guys many reps because if we punt six times in a preseason game, how are you going to work eight different guys? I mean you can, but then they get one rep."
That shortage of available reps will also affect the search for a kick returner. On the plus side, April says the Eagles have an exciting array of young returners.
Brandon Boykin "does both (kick and punt returns) and is very good at both," said April. "We have quite a few guys. I mean we have some weapons. Damaris Johnson was a fantastic player at Tulsa, had a fantastic career at Tulsa. So we've got some options between those two guys who have just come in. Cliff Harris is a tremendous punt returner. We've got Ron Johnson here who we liked a year ago, we didn't draft him San Francisco did, but we were able to pick him up. He's done a very good job here. He was a good returner coming out of USC, I really liked him ... Mardy Gilyard. Chad Hall. We've got Dion Lewis. So we've got some good returners. And then there are a couple young guys that maybe are a little off the radar because they weren't drafted or whatever, but there are some guys who I think could compete and do well given the opportunity."
In other words, more competition.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider.