One of the interesting things to watch tomorrow night during the Eagles' preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be what happens in the return game on special teams. Head coach Andy Reid said in today's press conference that wide receiver Chad Hall will handle the punt return duties, while safety Quintin Demps will handle the kickoff return role, though Hall could also see time there as well.
For Hall, the job of return man is something that he must use as an avenue for his roster push. He's said throughout the preseason that for him to make the roster, he'll have to "create a position" for himself. The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Air Force man has gotten the majority of his reps as a wide receiver, but he's also capable of contributing out of the backfield. If he can prove to be a valuable and versatile chess piece, he may be difficult to part with for the coaching staff.
If Hall can emerge as a punt returner, it could take some of the burden off of DeSean Jackson, considered by most to be the best punt returner in the game and a Pro Bowler as a return man last season. But because Jackson is such a vital part of the offense, it could make sense to limit his punt return duties at least a little bit in the future.
"I'm excited, it's a big opportunity for me," Hall said. "All eyes are on you (as a returner).
"Every special teams play is huge throughout the game. Each one can be a game breaker. So you can definitely make a mark on special teams each and every game, especially if you're one of the returners. That's one of the most important jobs on the whole team."
Meanwhile, returning kicks is nothing new for Demps, who excelled in the role as a rookie in 2008, returning one kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. But Demps ceded the role to cornerback Ellis Hobbs at the beginning of the 2009 season before an ankle injury limited his chances to return as the kickoff return man after Hobbs was lost for the season to a neck injury. And while Demps fights to prove himself on defense - and he'll certainly have that opportunity as well tomorrow night as the second-team free safety - he feels like he already has an established track record as a returner.
"I feel like I'm back at home when I'm back there," Demps said. "It's natural for me, it's god-given.
"It's all about instinct, peripheral vision, seeing stuff before the blocks while you're full speed. It's a feeling kind of thing."
Demps said that he has a different kickoff return style than Hobbs. Whereas Hobbs is more apt to juke a defender in space, Demps is more of a full-speed-ahead returner.
"I'm just straightforward, and wherever the hole is I'm gone," he said.
Both Demps and Hall are sure to get several opportunities tomorrow night to make an impact on special teams, and their respective performances in that role throughout the preseason will go a long way in determining where they stand come the regular season.
For more about Hall and his experiences throughout training camp, check out episode two of The Journey.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 1:11 p.m., August 12