In 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles were lackluster in the return game, to say the least. For a team with so many explosive weapons to finish 28th in the NFL in both punt returns and kickoff returns is utterly mind-boggling. In 2010 they were 8th in the league in punt returns and 22nd in kick returns. Much of their success returning punts in 2010 can be attributed to DeSean Jackson and his 11.6 yards per return.
This year, the Eagles are hoping they have found the solution to their return game woes in the form of rookies Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson. The two rookies are likely to see the lion’s share of reps in the return game during training camp and the preseason. The reason for this twofold: first, they are in desperate need of an upgrade in those positions and secondly, the team is looking to protect its $51 million in DeSean Jackson. Any Reid also wants Jackson to focus more on the receiver position in camp, especially since Jackson’s receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch last year were the lowest since his rookie campaign.
Reid went on to explain that while he wants Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to focus on sharpening their skills as receivers, he also feels confident in Boykin and Johnson. Said Reid: “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.”
Boykin is a 4th round pick out of Georgia and was specifically targeted by the Eagles because of his ability in the return game. Even though Johnson was undrafted out of Tulsa, the wide receiver is the NCAA career leader in all-purpose yards. If Boykin and/or Johnson can improve the return game, it will pay huge dividends for the Eagles by altering field position and giving the offense a shorter field, which, in theory, should lead to more scoring opportunities.