The Eagles' special teams units have been a work in progress all season, but Monday night was by and large the group's most encouraging performance of the season. Punt returner Damaris Johnson had a season-high 32 punt return yards, while kick returner Brandon Boykin broke 100 yards returning for the second time this season.
"Collectively we keep getting a little bit better, a little bit better," special teams coordinator Bobby April said Thursday. "Hopefully we'll continue to improve, continue to get better and make more plays for the offense that way."
Boykin was able to make the most of his returns Monday, accumulating 110 yards on four returns. In fact, Boykin had his longest return of the season, a 41-yarder, only to fumble the ball away. April said the rookie returner/cornerback is less hesitant when he takes the ball out of the end zone, which is helping him get up the field more quickly.
"I think he's more aggressive," April said. "He's more willing to go flying up in the briar patch. He's less concerned about, 'Let me make sure. Before I do anything, let me figure this thing out.' You don't have time to figure it out. He's playing fast. He is fast, but he's playing faster ... You have to get it going. And he has."
Boykin isn't the only one improving. Though he hasn't seen as many opportunities in recent weeks, Johnson is making the chances he does get count. Like Boykin, April believes Johnson has stopped thinking and has started making decisions more quickly. That allows Johnson to avoid turning a one-on-one situation, that's Johnson against a potential tackler, into a 10-on-one.
"He has and has had the ability to make a guy miss," April said. "When you have to make the guy miss you're not pushing up the field and going and making diagonal cuts at top speed. There's something about you having to stop your feet or move laterally (that) at least regulates your speed and then having to re-accelerate. So all those time factors, the net gets drawn on you. He can run with the ball."
This week presents a greater challenge for the Eagles. The Cowboys rank 10th in the league in kick return yardage allowed, surrendering just 22.2 yards per return. But last time these teams met, Boykin returned four kicks for 94 yards. Another day like that, coupled with the continuing improvement of Johnson, would be a big lift for an Eagles team looking to get out of its rut.
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