With rookie Josh Huff still on the shelf, the Eagles plan to use cornerback Nolan Carroll to return kickoffs to begin the season, head coach Chip Kelly said Tuesday.
Carroll has not returned kicks since 2010, his rookie year with the Dolphins, when he averaged 24.3 yards on 27 kicks with a long of 46 yards.
Carroll didn’t return any kicks during the preseason. The Eagles used Huff (five returns, 33.8 average, with a 102-yard touchdown) and Damaris Johnson (five returns, 22.6 average), with Kenjon Barner and Henry Josey getting one return each.
But Huff's status is up in the air with a shoulder injury. He didn’t practice Tuesday (see Injury Update), and his availability for the season opener against the Jaguars Sunday at the Linc is unknown.
The Eagles released Johnson, Barner and Josey on Saturday. Johnson was the Eagles' primary kick returner last year with a 25.9 average on 17 returns.
Nickel corner Brandon Boykin averaged 23.0 yards as the Eagles' primary returner as a rookie in 2012. Johnson averaged 25.9 yards per return last year, 12th-highest in the league.
Johnson ranks sixth in Eagles history with a 25.9 career average, highest by any Eagle in the last 40 years. He was claimed on Sunday by the Texans.
In his only year returning kicks, Carroll ranked 18th in the NFL in kick return average. The same year, Brad Smith of the Jets was second (28.7) and Darren Sproles of the Chargers was 17th at 24.7.
Smith and Sproles rank sixth and seventh among active NFL returners with career averages of 25.7 and 25.2.
Smith and Sproles are both now with the Eagles and are also kick return options, but Kelly said he and special teams coach Dave Fipp believe Carroll is a better fit for what the Eagles want to do in the kick return game.
“The way we’re doing things from a return standpoint, I think the way Nolan hits things he really fits into our blocking scheme,” Kelly said.
“You’ll see Darren back there [also]. ... It doesn’t mean he can’t be on the second kick. Brandon Boykin could be back there, Brad Smith could be back there. We’ve got a lot of guys who could return kickoffs.”
The Eagles haven’t had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Quinton Demps had a 100-yarder against the Ravens in 2008. They are one of only five NFL teams without a kick return for a touchdown in the last five seasons.
Demps led the AFC with a 30.1 kick return average last year playing for the Chiefs under Andy Reid, who drafted him here in 2008.