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Donnie Jones Gives Punt Game Big Lift

Another practice is finished and once again Donnie Jones walks off the field and past the mob of media members who offer a pleasant "Hello," but really don't see Jones as much of a story. Again. It is a product of the position he plays - Donnie Longball, the punter - but also because Jones is secure and predictable and not much of a story at all. It is the ultimate compliment.

The only punter on the Eagles' roster, Jones enters his 13th NFL season coming off perhaps his best year. He boomed 'em in 2015 with a gross average of 47 yards per punt (second best in Eagles history, behind Joe Muha's 47.3-yard average in 1948) and a net punting average of 41.6 yards (best in franchise history).

And, for the media, there isn't much to talk about with Jones.

"I've been asked once during camp to do an interview," Jones said, laughing. "It doesn't bother me at all. As long as my coaches are pleased with how I'm kicking it and I feel good about things, that's all that matters."

Yeah, well, everyone is pleased. Jones has looked great one day to the next as the special teams take their turns at practice. He's got it all - distance, height and great direction when needed.

Entering his fourth season in Philadelphia, Jones has the statistical portfolio to suggest that he's the best punter in the history of the Eagles. He's first in franchise history in gross and net punting average, and very early in the 2016 NFL season he'll vault into first in another key category, punts inside the 20-yard line (Jones, with 96, has Jeff Feagles' total of 102 in sight). 

"I'm kicking it as well as I have ever kicked it," Jones said. "It goes back to preparation in the offseason, something I took in a different direction before last season. Dave Fipp (special teams coordinator) has had a huge influence on me since I came here and he had a conversation with me after the 2014 season and he said, basically, 'The older you get, the more time you have to put in to continue to be great.' I took that to heart and explored ways to get better. I made great use of my time, stayed in great shape and started kicking earlier in the offseason."

Jones did things in that offseason like carrying bags of rocks and running springs with the rocks in his yard and pushing his Ford 250 truck in the street, real "Strongman" kind of things, to improve his leg strength and his explosiveness. Blessed with left leg that has excellent whip speed, Jones then went out and had one of the best seasons of his storied career.

In the months before this season, Jones focused on band work, weight work, body-weight exercises and on the mechanics of the kick. As the Eagles count their strengths, special teams and the punting game are no doubt high on the list.

"I feel like I'm in the prime of my career," said Jones, who played for Seattle, Miami and St. Louis before signing with the Eagles in 2013 and beating out Brad Wing, now with the Giants, for the punting job. "It's all a matter of how you train, how you prepare, how you take care of yourself. A good number of kickers play well into their 40s and I know that I feel great and I'm ready to go out and have my best season. That's how good I feel."

Jones describes himself as a "power" punter, so he's always had distance. Working with Wing in the 2013 offseason, Jones adopted the Australian's end-over-end technique on pooch kicks and the Eagles have ranked among the league's best teams on kicks inside the 20-yard line (Jones' goal is to drop it inside the 12-yard line, actually) ever since.

His goal is to be a complete punter, and it's easy to see that he has been that with the Eagles. Taking into consideration the operation time - from Jon Dorenbos' snap to the time the football leaves Jones' foot - the hang time and the distance, Jones says he is off to the best start since he's been an Eagle.

"I'm feeling great about everything," Jones said. "It's been smooth and we're all right where we want to be. We've got a game coming up on Thursday, and the preseason games are always a good opportunity to get it down in a game situation and work out any kinks.

"My focus is to go out and have the best season I can have and help this team win games. I feel really good about the way I've played since I've been here. It's a special place with a lot of great people and great fans. I'd love nothing more than to play many more years here."

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