More than any phase of the NFL game, the special teams are the farthest from being set. So much of what Eagles Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay will work with in this 2023 season is far from being set and truly won't be until the roster is reduced to 53 players, but now is the time to teach the system, learn about the players, and understand that with competition – and with this strong 90-man roster, there is a lot of that – Philadelphia can expect the coverage, return game, and kicking game iron to be sharp.
"I think with this whole draft and how the 90-man (roster) is structured at this point, I think a lot of the guys that we took in our draft, Howie (Roseman) does a great job, the personnel department does a great job, they all can contribute in some way," Clay said. "You see Nolan Smith blocked a few punts in Georgia. He's an athlete, a freak athlete that you could use. Sydney Brown did a heck of a job in terms of his career at Illinois. He and (Seattle first-round cornerback) Devon Witherspoon were their gunners, and having the opportunity for those guys coming in with their speed and the prowess of playing some special teams coming in, I think it's only going to make this team better because competition usually breeds the greatness in everything. Having guys come in, whether they're young, second-year guys, I think it's going to be beneficial for our team going forward."
Clay's goal is to improve the consistency of the special teams in every area. He wants to minimize the valleys and increase the peaks, and to that end, the Eagles are looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds in Training Camp and in the three-game preseason. Boston Scott, for example, gave the kickoff return game a shot in the arm last year, but he knows he won't be locked in at that position in 2023. Britain Covey made noticeable strides returning punts as a rookie and he knows he will have to earn the spot in the season ahead. Jake Elliott is one of the game's best placekickers so there aren't questions there. Punter Arryn Siposs improved in his second season with the Eagles and the team also added Ty Zentner in the post-2023 NFL Draft period. Zentner averaged 44.5 yards per punt with 27 punts inside the 20-yard line at Kansas State last season.
Competition is one of the core values of the team and the belief is that it will bring out the best in both players.
Phase 2 of the offseason program is underway at the NovaCare Complex! Check out these photos of the team – rookies included – back on the field, plus some new faces.
"Kansas State is not an easy stadium to kick in, and you're going against some really good returners in the Big 12, and having the opportunity to meet with him, kind of get to know him a little bit, and see the competitive edge he has, he possesses, and he does have some traits that we look for with his consistency and his drop," Clay said. "He also has the ability to do kickoffs that could help out our team in certain situations, whether that's maybe saving Jake's leg in the preseason, getting those kickoffs off. Seeing his ability to punt and also have that really caught our eye, and we're very fortunate enough that he wasn't taken in the draft and we had the opportunity to get him in free agency.
"It all goes back down to the competition. We felt that Arryn has done some good things (since) we first got him a couple years ago, but just like in any facet of the NFL, everything is being evaluated, and if we feel as a collective group, myself, Howie (Roseman), Coach (Nick) Sirianni, that we want to bring someone in to push and elevate our group, we're going to do that. They do a great job of allowing us to voice our opinion in that case. Everything is production-based business, whether it's myself or the team or the players we have on this team."
This is the baby-step portion as the Eagles, in Phase 2 of the offseason program, are on the field working through drills, grinding through the fundamentals, sharpening their technique, and hoping to impress. The real evaluation comes when the pads go on, certainly as far as special teams go. Clay wants to see steady improvement and consistency.
"You don't want the special teams to be a roller coaster," Clay said. "You want it to be a consistent upward tick. We don't want to start off high the first couple weeks, then just slowly drop down. I think the consistency is the biggest thing on a broad scale that we want to see from the special teams unit, and it all starts with me obviously to get these guys to perform at a level we want it to perform at."