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Dave Fipp (left) is the Eagles' sixth special teams coach in the last eight years. (AP)
When Andy Reid switched John Harbaugh from special teams coach to secondary coach after the 2006 season, it did wonders for Harbaugh’s career.
Within a year, Harbs was head coach of the Ravens, and last February, he coached the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship.
The move did not, however, do wonders for Eagles special teams.
Rory Segrest. Ted Daisher. Bobby April.
From 2007 through 2012, the Eagles went through three special teams coaches, resulting in varying degrees of disaster.
Segrest was simply overmatched. Daisher wasn’t awful, but he must have made some enemies in the NovaCare Complex because he was fired after just one year. April had decent schemes, but his methods were probably antiquated.
Exit Reid. Enter Chip Kelly and Dave Fipp, the Eagles’ sixth special teams coach in the last eight years.
On Monday night, we saw a revved-up offense and an improved defense, but we also saw a special teams unit that did a few things we haven’t seen around here in a long time.
They played physical, smart and disciplined. They tackled well. They made good decisions.
Special teams was a huge part of the Eagles’ 33-27 season-opening win over the Redskins Monday night at FedEx Field.
It was only one game, but it was an auspicious start.
“I think the best thing they did was they all played together,” Fipp said. “We had 11 guys playing together as one. When you have team coverage, good things happen.
“I thought our guys did a great job. We talk a lot about where we’re supposed to be, how we’re supposed to fit, how we work together, and they all were in the right spots and they all did a great job.
“We got a phenomenal effort out of our players. They’ve bought into everything we’ve ever asked them to do.”
The Eagles controlled field position all night, with the Redskins’ average drive starting on their own 20, and the Eagles’ average drive starting out at the 39.
“That was the first game for us, good to get that first one under our belt,” said Colt Anderson, who played a team-high 26 special teams snaps. “We did a lot of good things, but we’re never satisfied. We just want to take what we did out there and continue to build on it.”
You really can’t find an area of special teams the Eagles didn’t excel in Monday night.
Donnie Jones had four punts inside the 20, Damaris Johnson went 27 yards on his only kick return, Alex Henery hit a 48-yard field goal, and the Eagles limited the Redskins to 14 yards on two punt returns and 18.7 yards on three kick returns. The Eagles even recovered the Redskins’ last-ditch onside kick at the end of the game, thanks to rookie Jake Knott.
“Coach Fipp demands greatness out of us every single day,” said Brandon Boykin, who picked up his first NFL interception as a cornerback Monday night but also played 19 snaps on special teams.
“He’s always harping on technique, fundamentals, speed in practice, making everything faster than it would be in a game, and I think you saw the end results of it [Monday].”
The Eagles ranked 28th last year in the widely respected Dallas Morning News special teams rankings, compiled annually by Rick Gosselin based on 22 categories in the kicking game.
After ranking in the top five every year from from 2000-05, including first twice, the Eagles haven’t been higher than 13th the last seven years, and their average ranking since 2005 is 21st.
Can the Eagles return to a top-10 ranking for the first time since 2005?
Harbaugh’s not available, so if anybody can get them there, it’s Fipp, who was assistant special teams coach last year with the Dolphins, who were No. 2 in the special teams ranking.
“He’s a players’ coach, and you gotta love playing for him,” rookie corner Jordan Poyer said. “The energy he brings, it’s like he wants to be on the field out there with you, and that gets you fired up.”
Kelly, for all the focus on offense, has given Fipp tremendous support in the form of practice periods and meeting time. And for the first time in a while, the Eagles have some young, athletic linebackers and defensive backs, who are the core of most capable special teams units.
It also helps that the philosophy in the NovaCare Complex these days is that special teams isn’t just for backups. On Monday night, several starters, including Patrick Chung (11 snaps), Nate Allen (10 snaps) and Cary Williams (nine snaps), played big roles on special teams. In fact, nine of the 11 defensive starters were on special teams, contributing a total of 54 snaps.
“Everybody’s got a role on special teams and the guys do a great job embracing that when we ask somebody to take a role,” said Fipp, whose assistant, Matthew Harper, played for Kelly at Oregon and started his coaching career there as an intern.
“They all give us everything they’ve got. The bottom line for us is that we’re going to play our best 11 guys, whoever they are, that gives our team the best chance to win.
“The top teams, the top special teams outfits in the National Football League, all have their offensive and defensive starters play a role. Sometimes that role is to be a backup, sometimes that role is to be a starter, but the best ones get the job done no matter what it is.”