April lists Boykin and Johnson at KR and PR
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- After Thursday's walk-through, Eagles special teams coordinator Bobby April talked with the media and revealed two key pieces of information:
1. Damaris Johnson is the first-team punt returner.
2. Brandon Boykin is the first-team kick returner.
At least for now.
Johnson is a 5-foot-8 undrafted free agent WR out of Tulsa. He is the NCAA's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (7,796) and kick return yards (3,417) despite only playing three seasons.
Johnson was fantastic as a receiver during the Eagles' OTAs and minicamp but hasn't been as dynamic since putting on the pads at Lehigh. He might, however find his role as a return man for the Eagles.
As for kick returns, Boykin is the first-team guy right now. Boykin won the Paul Hornung Award as a senior at Georgia for the most versatile player in college football. The Eagles took him in the fourth round. Boykin is also battling Joselio Hanson for the slot corner job.
April said he can see a player making the team as a primary kick returner.
“I would think so," April said. "All the guys we are talking about play other positions. They are very skilled in their other positions. Damaris is skilled and Cliff Harris is skilled so I can see us doing that. The punt return is critical because the judgments they make are going to affect the offense and the defense. In the playoff game the ball hit the kid on the leg because his judgment was off a little bit.
"Big plays that affect both the offense and the defense so instead of having the ball, their defense had to go out there and defend the goal line from about 20 yards away. Those things are so critical to those sides of the ball that I can definitely see Coach [Reid] keeping a guy because of that status.”
Last season, running back Dion Lewis returned kicks and struggled. Lewis averaged 21.6 yards per return during his rookie season, good for 26th in the NFL. He said he would like another opportunity to return kicks this season, and has even been taking some in practice, but Boykin is the guy for now.
April mentioned a few more names of players who might get a chance to return either kicks or punts.
“Well, [WR] Chad Hall who did it last year, [RB] Dion Lewis who did it last year, [WR] Mardy Gilyard who’s done it," April said. "We really liked him coming out of Cincinnati. He didn’t do much last year for St. Louis, but we like him. We think he’s a good player. He’s in the mix as a receiver too. So we’ve got guys. We’ve got guys. Like I said before, we’ve got to make a really wise decision on which one is actually the best and it’s got to be done really through the preseason.”
April also said that incumbent punter Chas Henry and new free agent pickup Mat McBriar are splitting reps as McBriar gathers his strenghth. E-mail Dave Zangaro at email@example.com