Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eagles 2012 Kick Returning Job Up For Grabs

In 2011 the Eagles were 27th in punt return average and 31st in kick return average. Wtih a rotation of DeSean Jackson, Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis, Chad Hall and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles were unable to find someone who could guarentee them a solid starting field position.
Brandon Boykin hopes to take over the
kick return duties for the Eagles.

For 2012, the Eagles options look brighter. With DeSean Jackson signed to a long term deal and the addition of Mardy Gilyard in free agency, Brandon Boykin in the draft, and a few other names signed during rookie free agency in the days following the draft, the Eagles now have an abundance of options at kick returner.

Mardy Gilyard, signed by the team in January, was a fourth round pick by the Rams in 2010. In his final two years at Cincinnati, the 5'11 194 pounder made the All-American team as both a kick returner and a wide receiver. In his four years as a Bearcat he averaged an impressive 28.3 yards per return while amassing 2,634 yards.

The Florida native, who was left without a team in 2011, returned 16 kicks with the Rams in 2010 and averaged 22.3 yards per return, good for 356 total yards. The number 19 jersey will be a player to watch and will be fighting for a starting job at the end of the month in Lehigh.

In the fourth round of April's draft the Eagles selected Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin was one of the most athletic players coming out of this year's draft. His 2012 Outback Bowl game and his 2011 award show why.

In the Outback bowl, against Michigan State, Boykin scored on offense (TD reception), defense (safety), and special teams (punt return TD) to account for 14 of the teams 30 points. Despite being on the losing side, Boykin was awarded MVP of the game.

A year earlier, following the 2011 season, the Bulldog earned the Paul Hornung award in it's second year of existence. His 2011 season included four touchdowns; two receiving, one rushing, and one punt return. The award, given to "recognize and reward versatile, high-level performers in major college football (FBS teams)," was awarded to Owen Marecic, a fullback/linebacker hybrid at Stanford in 2010.

A third option for the Eagles in the kick return department could be undrafted rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson who was signed to the team the Sunday following draft weekend. Johnson spent 2011 out of football due to a suspension involving legal issues.

WR Damaris Johnson
during OTAs
However, in 2009 and 2010 the 5'8 170 pounder put together one of the more impressive two season stretches in college football. He accumulated 135 receptions for 2,003 yards and seven touchdowns, ran for 735 yards and another seven touchdowns, and returned 80 kicks for 2,035 yards and one touchdown. Add in his punt return yardage from those two years and you have a player who accounted for 5,321 yards (2660.5 yards/year) and 17 touchdowns.

Despite only playing for three years, Johnson holds the NCAA record for career return yards with 3,417 yards and total yards gained in a career with 7,420 yards. If he can earn a roster spot on the Eagles after missing a full year of playing time Johnson can make an immediate impact on special teams.

In addition to last year's kick returner Dion Lewis, running back Chris Polk and cornerback Cliff Harris, who were signed as undrafted free agents, also spent time returning kicks during their collegiate careers. The Washington Husky and Oregon Duck can provide extra depth and competition during training camp.

If you are planning to attend Training Camp in Lehigh, keep these numbers in the back of your mind:

Gilyard, 19
Boykin, 22
Johnson, 13
Polk, 32
Harris, 38

Follow me on Twitter @brendenp2011 .

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