Buried beneath the focus on the offensive line, the backfield, the free safety position and many other can't-miss storylines for training camp is the Eagles' return game. Revitalized last season by rookies DeSean Jackson on punts and Quintin Demps on kickoffs, the return game now faces another series of tests.
We won't know the answers until training camp, and then the preseason games, are completed.
What does Ted Daisher, the enthusiastic and very successful new special teams coordiator do here? Does he drop by Andy Reid's dorm room one morning at Lehigh University and insist that Jackson and Demps continue in their roles, even though both are expected to have expanded dutes on offense and defense, respectively?
Jackson, the go-to wide receiver last year, has a chance for even greater numbers now, and Demps is in line to win the starting job at free safety.
Can those two handle so much responsibility without wearing down over the long haul of the season? Certainly, both return man displayed moments of brilliance last year, and Jackson in particular looks like he could be a game-changing punt return man, someone who is one of the very best in the league.
Or is it too much to ask the players to pull double duty like that? Why risk injury -- or total exhaustion -- to either player by making them stay on the field as starters at the line of scrimmage and targets to hit in the return game?
It is a valid thought to ponder, and one that Daisher and the coaches know they must resolve before the regular season rolls around. The Eagles have a stable of players they can work with in training camp practices and they are going to make sure that Ellis Hobbs, a terrific return man in New England, gets plenty of turns receiving kickoffs in camp. The Eagles will look at Jeremy Maclin -- still no word on his contract status, by the way -- in both roles after his explosive career as a return man in college. Macho Harris seems a likely candidate to see what he can do in the return game, too.
It's a whole new world for the Eagles on special teams with Daisher running the show. The goal is to be the best in the league, to make big plays and set the offense up with great field position on rerturns. Daisher has his plan down with the new rules regarding two-man blocking wedges -- the league voted to do away with the more common three- and four-man blocking wedges -- so the impact of the return game could be minimized drastically, anyway. We have to see just how restricting the new wedge rules will be.
And as Daisher sifts through his personnel -- which he felt good about coming away from the spring practices -- finding the right return combination is very high on the list. Should Jackson stay in the punt game the Eagles have a touchdown possibility waiting on every punt. Jackson is that dangerous. Is there anyone on the roster who can replace Jackson and still give the Eagles the threat returning punts?
Demps has a lot on his plate right now. He has a spot at free safety that he has to win, with heavy competition among a talented group at the position, and that in itself is a full-time job. Would using him on kickoffs, even during the training camp practices, take away from his focus at free safety?
We're getting closer, gang. Training camp is right around the corner and there are many, many questions to be answered. Just don't forget about special teams. They mean a lot. This year, the Eagles need to ramp up and become more complete. Having home-run hitters in the return game would be a huge plus in the big picture.