Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

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Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

On offense, they ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring, just three points out of second. On defense, they went nine straight games allowing 21 or fewer points.

No wonder 2013 was such a turnaround season for the Eagles, going from 4-12 in Andy Reid’s final season to 10-6 and NFC East champs in Chip Kelly’s first.

Explosive on offense, promising on defense.

Which leaves only … pathetic on special teams.

So while the Eagles’ offseason was dominated by DeSean Jackson’s release, a free agency season absent of big names, Jason Peters’ new contract and a draft heavy in wide receivers and defense, the Eagles quietly have been trying to upgrade one of the NFL’s worst special teams units.

They didn’t land any big names during free agency -- Malcolm Jenkins was the biggest -- but the Eagles did add safety Chris Maragos, linebacker Bryan Braman and nickel corner Nolan Carroll, who are all being counted on to be special teams stalwarts.

They added Darren Sproles to punch up the offense, but he also has a strong track record in the return game.

They added some fast, physical players in the draft who should be contributors right away on special teams -- Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds and probably even Marcus Smith.

They even brought in an undrafted free-agent placekicker to challenge one-time fourth-round pick Alex Henery.

And the Eagles hope it all adds up to a much improved special teams group.

“We hope so,” Kelly said. “I think it's been a big emphasis. The addition of Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, guys like that. Nolan Carroll, outstanding special teams players. Bringing Darren in here was the one thing we really thought, besides being used as a running back and as a receiver coming out of the back field, I think his ability as a returner, I think that's huge.”

The Eagles were among the NFL’s worst on special teams a year ago -- 25th in kick return average, 27th in punt return average, 19th covering kicks and 20th in field goal accuracy.

According to Rick Gosselin’s famed annual special teams rankings that appear annually in the Dallas Morning News, which take into account 22 different special teams categories, the Eagles overall ranked 28th in the league in special teams efficiency, ahead of only the Raiders, Lions, Redskins and Panthers.

“It was a concerted effort to get bigger and faster on special teams,” general manager Howie Roseman said.

“I know just in kind of Phase Two [of the offseason workout program] you get an opportunity to see guys run down the field, and you see a guy like Bryan Braman.

"Our fans are going to love Bryan Braman. Bryan Braman, and I say this with all due respect, is out of his mind. He's 6-4 and he's 260 pounds and he's telling me that he can run like a 4.3 but he pulled his hamstring when he ran at the regional workout. I've got to believe him. He is like almost a freak of nature when he runs down.

“[Plus] Nolan Carroll, and you add them to Brandon Boykin and Maragos and then the guys we've gotten here [during the draft]. I think we've certainly upgraded the talent level, and I think that's one of the things that hurts your special teams is [when the] back end of the roster [isn’t] effective.”

For all that’s made about Kelly’s groundbreaking up-tempo offensive philosophy, he’s constantly talking about special teams.

Huff knows how important special teams is to Kelly. He played under him from 2010 through 2012.

“I played special teams a lot,” Huff said. “Coming from Oregon that’s all they preach: ‘If you want to get to the next level, you have to contribute on special teams.’

“I had my opportunity to contribute on special teams and I did everything I could to contribute on special teams. Special teams is a role on any team.”

It’s tough to find a move the Eagles made this year that wasn’t made with special teams in mind.

Whether it was the draft picks, free-agent acquisitions or even the decisions to part ways with core special teamers such as Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, everything was done with an eye on special teams.

“That was a real conscious decision that we had to upgrade really our coverage units in terms of how we were doing things,” Kelly said. “We felt like with Nolan Carroll, Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman, with some of these guys that we drafted that that's really going to help us.

“At times when we're looking at players, we have a dot on their tag so that the person with the dot is going to be a core special teams player. ...

“So far with the decisions that we're making, we're erring that way. If there are two guys that are equal and this guy's a better teams player, we're going to take the guy that's the better teams player.”

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

Updated: 3:23 p.m.

The Eagles have some injuries, but they don't seem to be too serious. 

Vinny Curry (knee), Taylor Hart (knee, ankle), Isaac Seumalo (pec) and Rodney McLeod (hamstring) all missed practice and won't play Thursday, but head coach Doug Pederson said if it was a regular season game, they'd all be able to go. 

Wendell Smallwood (concussion) also missed practice and is going through the NFL's concussion protocol. 

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson said the team would hold Seumalo back from practice until he was 100 percent. Pederson expects Seumalo back next week and then the team will make a decision about the starting offensive line.

For the second straight day, however, Carson Wentz (ribs) and Jordan Matthews (knee) were practicing. Neither will play on Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets, but both also said they'll be ready for the opener.

The Eagles wrap up their preseason at the Linc on Thursday with a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Jets.

Eagles injured rookie Alex McCalister staying positive about redshirt year 

Eagles injured rookie Alex McCalister staying positive about redshirt year 

Eagles rookie seventh-round pick Alex McCalister was placed on injured reserve on Sunday and will miss his entire rookie season. 

Now it’s time to eat. 

McCalister, 22, said he’s going to use this year — after a conveniently timed left calf tear that doesn’t need surgery — to bulk up.  

“Of course it’s frustrating, the fact that my rookie year I can’t get out there and play, but you can always turn something bad into something good,” McCalister said. “I can almost look at this as a redshirt year, just adding on that extra bulk, learning the playbook, stuff like that. It’s not all bad in my eyes.”

The rookie from Florida is 6-foot-6, with freakishly long 36-inch arms, but desperately needed to put on more weight coming out of college. Coming into the NFL, McCalister said he weighed just 236 pounds. On Monday, he said he’s up to 254. 

How did he put on the weight? 

“Cheesesteaks,” the rookie said. 

He hopes to add an additional 10 pounds during his redshirt year, which would have him at around 264 (the same weight as Connor Barwin) — 30 pounds heavier than when he entered the league. 

Will it be tough for McCalister to learn how to play at that new weight? 

“As long as I have the strength behind it, I won’t lose any speed at all,” he said. “I feel like it won’t be that big of a deal.”

The Eagles took McCalister in the seventh round of the draft this spring after the Florida prospect went through a draft-day slide amid character concerns. Upon his arrival to Philadelphia, McCalister adamantly denied a report that he was kicked off Florida’s football team, but said he spent a good portion of his interviews with teams answering questions about his maturity. 

It’s easy to see why the Eagles took a chance on him, though. He’s athletic and long and has the kind of traits teams want to see in a pass rusher. 

Now he’ll have an extra year, which he said will “definitely” help him to become more NFL-ready. 

“Just having that extra time to gain that weight, dive into the playbook even more,” McCalister said. “By this time next year, I’ll be ready to go.” 

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Jake Metz has gone from the Soul to the Eagles.

Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski on Monday night tweeted a congratulatory message about the defensive tackle signing with the Eagles.

Metz and Soul wide receiver Darius Reynolds, fresh off an ArenaBowl title last Friday, worked out for the Eagles this afternoon before practice. Metz is the 74th player on the roster, which means the team is still below the next cut line — which is Tuesday at 4 p.m. — of 75. The Eagles' roster has to be at 53 by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3.

Metz, 25, graduated from Souderton Area High School and played his college ball at Shippensburg University. For the Arena Football League champions, Metz posted Soul highs in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (10).