Q. So much of special teams is guys who show in preseason games that they really want to be a part of it, that they are committed to it. How do you replicate that, learning that about them without the preseason games? (Reuben Frank)
DAVE FIPP: Yeah, I would say that’s definitely a challenge. Those preseason games have been great for us in the past. You know, there’s a handful of things that are good. One good thing is everybody’s under the same restrictions, so nobody has those, and then [Head] Coach [Doug] Pederson has done an outstanding job of really setting up the practice schedule and the structure so we can get a lot of competitive drills in there.
We try to make it as game-like as possible. Obviously we’re not going to get it to be exactly like a game but we try to set up drills in the best way we can where it’s competitive but maybe there’s not 11 guys on the field. Maybe there’s eight or something like that or there’s four instead of 11 and we can kind of take some of the space out of the drills and some stuff like that. So we are working hard to make it as competitive as possible and simulate game-like conditions without actually having those games.
Q. Last time we got to talk to you, nobody brought up the specialist. What luxury is it to have guys that are so entrenched that you’re not really that worried about it? (John McMullen)
DAVE FIPP: Yeah, it’s great to have those three guys here, and I would say the best thing about all three of them is just how much they love their craft. They are really serious about what they do. They had a terrific off-season. Those guys got together all the time. Kicked and punted and even with the [long] snap and all that stuff. I would say those guys came into training camp here in great shape and in great form, really. So it’s definitely nice having veteran players there, especially this year obviously. But just like anybody, those guys are still working hard to continue to improve, and there’s areas in their game where they can work on. But like I said, the best part about them is just how serious they are about it, so they really do all that stuff on their own. You don’t have to worry about them nearly as much.
Q. We’ve seen WR Jalen Reagor do a lot of punt return stuff and he’s bobbled a few catches. Is that something you’re worried about at all? (Bo Wulf)
DAVE FIPP: I’m not worried with him. We’re really excited about him. He’s going to have some ups and downs just like any young player in this league. Right now he’s doing a great job, getting settled in back there. Feel really good about him. He’s really an explosive player, so we are highly encouraged.
Q. On that topic, you’ve used several guys returning so far. How do you evaluate that without preseason games? What will you be looking at to figure out who is your guy? If Jalen Reagor has a big role in the offense, then maybe he doesn’t get to return? What are you looking at? (Les Bowen)
DAVE FIPP: I would say probably all of the above. I mean, first part of it is just the roster makeup in general. Obviously we have limitations on the number of players on the active roster, the number of players active on game day. So a guy has to fit into the roster high enough that he’s going to be around on game day. If he’s an exceptional returner, then I think maybe he would be there for his return skills only but I would say most of the time it’s a combination of either offense and defensive play, as well as return skills. So I would say there’s a lot of variables to that. It is definitely without the preseason games, that was always a nice opportunity to get some players who might have been further down the roster an opportunity just to return.
Maybe if he was just a returner only and exceptional in that area, he might have gotten a chance to prove himself. You know, it’s just something we’ve got to work through.
The other challenge you have is for us right now, you only have so many punts coming off the punter’s foot and you can take a JUGS machine and try to simulate it the best you can, but it’s really not perfect.
And then you’ve got to prioritize who is going to get those reps off the punter’s foot. We try to pair that down and obviously [WR] Jalen [Reagor] has got a bunch of that work and [WR] Greg Ward has got some of that stuff, [WR] DeSean Jackson has got a little bit of it there. I would say it’s difficult to evaluate every player. The one thing Coach Pederson does do a good job of is he has a specialist period before practice starts. So we do get a chance to shoot the JUGS to a lot of different guys back there, and those guys get an opportunity to work their return game in that, and then they also get a chance in practice to work on holding up guys or rushing punts or doing the other 10 jobs on the field other than the returner.
Q. When it comes to the punt coverage and the kickoff coverage teams, have there been any of the new guys that have stood out so far in training camp? (Chris Franklin)
DAVE FIPP: I would say any guy in particular, it’s hard for me to name particulars, but I would tell you this that I’m really excited about this young group of players. We’ve had a bunch of guys come in here and they are all really competitive. Our young group of players I feel like is really pushing the top group, and it’s really making us better collectively. In my time here I would say our best units have always been when that bottom group has really driven and pushed that top group and those guys compete and make each other better.
The other thing about that is half the time in those seasons, at the beginning of the year, some of those guys aren’t on the roster, but by the end of the year some of those guys who are pushing the top end up coming up because of injuries and things that happen throughout the course of the year and then they end up playing for us. So I’m excited about the group overall.
Q. There was such a big emphasis in the off-season of getting faster and speedier. Have you noticed that? Has that manifested itself on the field? (Ed Kracz)
DAVE FIPP: Yeah, absolutely. I would say definitely. We definitely look faster out there. We’ve got a lot of speed. You need speed and good football players but we’ve got a bunch of guys that can do both of that. We are really excited about it. You see it on the practice field. It’s been encouraging and the other thing along those lines, so many of our plays on special teams are just wide area plays. They are long field plays where there’s 20, 30 yard zones where you’re not being touched, for example on kickoff, you run 30 yards before anyone is even by you. These guys on special teams plays end up getting to a top speed more often probably than you would on any offensive or defensive play, and I would say it’s definitely shown up for us.
Q. In preparation for potential worst-case scenarios with regard to COVID down the line, have you had to change your approach at all? Have you had to expand the reps to guys that you might not ordinarily give reps to in case you need them down the line? Has anything changed for you in that respect? (Paul Domowitch)
DAVE FIPP: Not a ton because you’re kind of preparing for a lot of this stuff on any given year, who is the backup snapper, who is going to be the third one after that. But we have given some of those guys a few more reps than we normally would, and then I would say the other thing that we are starting to do is shift guys around positionally. So for example, on kickoff return, maybe a guy was playing a frontline position, and then recently we moved him to like a back end position and some of it’s just contingency planning or preparing them for an emergency in the course of the year.
So we are trying to get some of that stuff under our belt now, so if we have to make a change in the middle of the season, it’s not the first time a guy has ever played that position back there.
It’s definitely difficult. You only have so many reps and so much time to get it all done and you’re trying to figure out a lot of things right now, but yeah, we’re going through that, also.
Q. LB Davion Taylor was obviously drafted in large part for his athleticism and speed. How much has that shown up so far on special teams this year? (Dave Zangaro)
DAVE FIPP: You can see him run, especially in a straight line. If he’s chasing somebody, he closes the field really fast. And he’s a great guy. He’s working really hard. The game’s important to him. He puts a lot of time into it. He wants to be a really good player. He’s like a lot of these guys. He has a lot to learn, especially in our world on special teams, he hasn’t played quite as much of that stuff in his past. You guys all know his history in the game anyway but he’s an exciting player. I think his upside in the future is really bright.
Q. LB Nate Gerry has been a core special teams guy for you the past few years. He took the most snaps of any player last year. In practice, he’s been an every-down linebacker. Are you still anticipating him being part of your group? (Zach Berman)
DAVE FIPP: Good question. I thought you were going to tell me in practice he hasn’t taken that many reps on special teams because he hasn’t [laughing] — because right now he has taken a lot more reps on defense.
That being said, obviously also you mentioned the fact that he’s got a lot of experience for us, so he’s a guy for us that we could put into a bunch of different spots at any time. He’s also a really good long snapper for us, so we’ve practiced him a little bit more in that area, so that’s been good for him. But yeah, we’ll just see how it plays out on defense. That’s kind of everybody’s position this time of year. In my shoes, you’re kind of waiting for the top end of the thing to sort itself out and then as that sorts itself out, you can make a little bit more sense of exactly the pieces that we’re going to get to work with a little bit more.
Like I’ve always told you, we are always trying to balance a guy’s [work] load on game day. If he’s playing a lot of defense, maybe he can’t play quite as much on [special] teams or vice versa. So we’ll just see how that all shakes out. We try to kind of get everybody in position, so when the top falls, then our stuff falls in line, too.
Q. How much do you grind the tape on the special teams snaps of these rookies from when they were in college and how much of that do you balance versus what you see from them in practice? For example, a guy like LB Dante Olson who was a very good special teams player in college. (Bo Wulf)
DAVE FIPP: Yeah, I would say it’s interesting you say that. We watch everything going in, or before we get them, and then there’s even times where you go back and you say, ‘Hey, like now that we’ve seen them, this is kind of what we’re thinking. But let me double-check that with his college film and see. Does that show up in his college film, too? Did I see that the first time right?’ And you kind of double-check with games, especially because like you guys are all saying, we don’t have those preseason games. Maybe in a normal year, you go off more of — I know I’ve seen him with us and under what we’re asking him to do, I would say maybe for me this year, maybe going back a little bit more to that college stuff where he’s actually playing a game to kind of double check the things I’m seeing on the practice field and does that match up with what he’s done in the past.
Now that being said, you’re also trying to give these guys kind of a clean slate. So you want to bring a guy in here, teach him what you’re teaching them and ask him to do it how you want him to do it and not hold what he did in college against him necessarily. I would say it’s a balance of both, but I would definitely tell you that I’ve looked back at the college film more this year than normal.
Q. I wanted to ask you about having Eagles personnel consultant Darren Sproles around and how helpful that is with respect to training WR Jalen Reagor to handle that job. (Paul Domowitch)
DAVE FIPP: I would say with Darren here, it’s great. Obviously you guys all know my relationship with Darren. I love him. He was obviously an unbelievable player but he’s just really an unbelievable resource for this whole organization. I mean, the guy played back there for a long, long time. He’s got a lot of experience. Obviously him talking to Jalen really is — means a lot more than me talking to him because of all his experience and all that stuff. So not to mention, I’m sure Jalen has a healthy amount of respect for obviously what the guy accomplished in this league.
But Darren is just such a great guy and a great resource, and you know, obviously I’m thrilled to have him around.