Boykin, Johnson could handle Eagles' returns
You probably won’t see DeSean Jackson returning many punts during training camp or preseason games. In March, the Eagles signed the two-time Pro Bowler to a five-year contract worth a reported $51 million. For the moment, the Eagles would rather protect their investment and determine whether there are other players in training camp capable of handling that duty.
“I want him to concentrate on the receiving end of it,” Reid said. Last year, Jackson’s total receiving yards, average yards per catch and touchdowns represented his worst performances in each of those categories since his rookie season.
“Most of all we think we have guys who can contribute there and be explosive players. Now, we have to see. DeSean is making sure those guys do well there in certain situations. But right now I want those other kids to get the reps and step up and see what they can do.
“DeSean and [Jeremy] Maclin, they’re not going to get the reps [as punt and kick returners]. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to worry about the young guys and making sure they get their shots at it.”
Last year, the Eagles were 28th in the NFL in both punt return yards and kick return yards. In 2010, they were 8th and 22nd respectively. Jackson, who averaged 11.6 yards per return and added a touchdown in 2010, saw his numbers dip last season (6.7 yards per return, no touchdowns). Meanwhile, Dion Lewis led the Eagles with 669 kickoff return yards, which put him 16th in the NFL.
"I feel like special teams is something I can immediately transition into, as opposed to the defensive side where there's more to learn," said Brandon Boykin, one of a handful of return candidates the Eagles are watching. "That's part of what I do, and with special teams there's an opportunity to possibly play right away."
Boykin and Damaris Johnson were two of the players Reid said could potentially help the Eagles improve both return positions. Boykin – a rookie cornerback drafted in the fourth round from Georgia – was targeted by the Birds in part because of his special teams talents. And while Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa, the wide receiver holds the NCAA’s all-time record for all-purpose yardage.
“Obviously we brought Boykin in to do that,” Reid said. “I’d probably tell you that he’s right there, both kick and punt. We know he can do both. He’s done more kickoffs than he has punts. And then Johnson is also another one that’s done it. We’re kind of leaving him in there as the primary punt guy right now, giving him reps. Chad Hall has done it. Cliff [Harris] has done a little bit of it. We’re going to test it out. He was a little bit inconsistent initially when we did it with him in the rookie camp, but he sure has the talent.
“You just have to make a judgment on it. That’s why they’re back there now, because of their experience in college. So we’ll just see. We’ll see how they do. And we’ll see how the numbers go.”
“Hopefully,” he joked, “you never punt.”E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com