Eagles shifting away from Johnson as returner?

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Eagles shifting away from Johnson as returner?

Lunch Break - Easy win for Birds?

November 6, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Damaris Johnson has averaged 10.4 yards per punt return in his career. (USA Today Images)

Damaris Johnson has done almost all of the kick and punt returning for the Eagles this season. That might not be the case this weekend when the Birds travel to Green Bay to face the Packers.

Johnson tweaked his ankle in the Giants game but the diminutive returner was active in Oakland last weekend. Johnson was on the field for 15 offensive snaps as a wide receiver against the Raiders. He also got one rep on special teams. But for the first time this year, Johnson didn’t return a punt or kick. Are the Eagles shifting away from him and toward DeSean Jackson on punts and Brandon Boykin on kickoffs?

“A little bit of that is dependent on where Damaris is,” Chip Kelly said. “He came along last week a little bit faster than anyone anticipated at the beginning of the week. We weren’t sure if he’d be ready to go. We’ll continue to monitor that. It’s one of those situations where he could feel good today but tomorrow when he wakes up he could be sore, so we’ll continue to monitor that.”

The question, of course, is if Johnson was healthy enough to play 25 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, why would the Eagles need to “monitor” him in order to determine if he can return punts and kicks?

Jackson had three punt returns for 39 yards against Oakland –- most of which came on a spectacular 32-yard scamper. For his career, Jackson averages 10.5 yards per return. He also has four career punt returns for touchdowns. By comparison, Johnson –- who has had issues judging punts inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line -- averages 10.4 yards per punt return and has one touchdown in two seasons.

“DeSean is always going to be a guy that we throw in there. And then Damaris, we’re going to see where he is this week in practice,” Kelly said. “I feel confident in the return situation because you do have Brandon [Boykin] that can return kickoffs. And you also have DeSean with punts. So we feel like we have a little bit of depth there.”

Boykin returned two kickoffs against the Raiders for a total of 50 yards –- most of which came on a 41-yard dash. A year ago, Boykin returned 45 kicks for 1037 yards (23 yards per return).

Johnson didn’t return any kicks last season. This year, Johnson has returned 17 kickoffs for 441 yards (25.9 per return).

Given how effective Jackson and Boykin were in Oakland, are the Eagles considering making them the punt and kick returners?

“DeSean had one long return there and Brandon hit one up in there, so those were positives for us,” Kelly said. “But we’re not ready to make a wholesale change at anything. One of the things we learned is that we do have some depth at that situation. Right now, with you getting into Week 10 of an NFL season, as many healthy bodies as you can get running around out there is going to make you a better team.”

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