Like Stone Cold Steve Austin before him, Colt Anderson is hoping to usher in his own Attitude Era. Rather than inside the squared circle though, Anderson's aiming to change the direction of the Eagles' special teams coverage units.
Through four games, the Eagles are ranked 29th in the league in kickoff coverage and 24th in the league in punt coverage, a disappointment that was on bright display last Sunday night when the team allowed David Wilson of the New York Giants to return six kickoffs for an average return of 36.2 yards. The Eagles were missing their two best coverage players in Anderson and Akeem Jordan that night, but special teams coordinator Bobby April said Thursday that serves as no excuse.
For his part, Anderson believes that success on special teams comes from within.
"Special teams is an attitude," Anderson said. "We have to get the right attitude. We have to have confidence in what we're doing, that we're going to get there first."
"Once you're at a certain level ... I think attitude is everything," said April in agreement. "I've mentioned this before that there are obstacles to overcome in having the incentive to play in that area. It really takes a tough, young scrapper and a really competitive and (team-oriented) guy to play well. I don't think that is the reason that we're playing poorly, but I think there have been some missteps in training them and maybe motivating them. Definitely your mental talent and toughness attributes to most of your success in this deal."
If fighting for the team isn't enough to light the fire in coverage, perhaps self-preservation will do the trick. For an example of that, the Eagles need look no further than the team's transaction earlier in the week when linebacker Brian Rolle, who had only eight special teams production points in four games, was released in favor of Adrian Moten.
"That's probably one of the toughest things that any player will probably deal with," said linebacker Jamar Chaney. "A lot of people would love to play special teams, college players, high school players that didn't make it to the NFL. But when you actually have been a starter and then you have to go back to not being a starter and playing special teams, it's kind of hard. But you just have to block that all out and just be thankful for the blessings that you do have. You're still in the NFL, you're healthy, you're still making good money. Just go out there and play the game that you love to play.
"It probably is an attitude thing, having the right attitude. If you have a starter on defense, you should be able to make a play on special teams. So you just need to have the mindset to continue to perfect your craft on the defensive side of the ball, but you're going to go all out on special teams as well. There are some guys in the league who have been playing 10 years or 12 years just on special teams. (Former Eagle) Tracy White, he's on the Patriots and this is his 10th ... year in the NFL. Colt is a great special teams player and he's probably going to have a job no matter what just because of how hard he plays on special teams."
There is some technical fine-tuning that will improve the kickoff coverage. Kicker Alex Henery said he "wasn't getting the ball where I needed to" and "I left (the ball) a little bit middle, where we wanted to do it right or left." Plus, Anderson's anticipated return, coupled with the addition of Moten, whom April called a "tough, young scrapper," should help.
This week, the task is Chris Rainey and the Steelers' return unit. Rainey, the speedy rookie out of Florida, has only returned four kickoffs thus far for an average of 22.3 yards but he is dangerous in the open field. The Steelers ranked eighth in the league in kickoff coverage in 2011, so they do know how to block well for the returner.
So one more time, what do the Eagles need to do to be successful in coverage this week and moving forward?
"We just have to win our one-on-one battles and be confident in making our plays," Anderson said. "We have to have the right attitude."
In other words, that's the bottom line, because (Stone) Colt said so.
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