Q. RB Jason Huntley, who you guys just brought in has a pretty dynamic highlight reel as a kickoff returner. Is he a guy you can just kind of plug and play in there and just watch him take off? (Mike Kaye)
DAVE FIPP: We’re definitely excited about getting him in the building. Obviously, we have seen all his film. We talked about him through the draft process. So, we’re excited about Jason. Whether or not you just plug and play, I can’t really answer that.
But we are excited to get him on the practice field and see what he does for us in person.
Q. Executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman was talking about the special teams the other day, and he referred to it as one of the big unknowns going into the season because of the lack of live drills. How unknown is it right now, and how much better do you hope this special teams will be this year than last year? (Paul Domowitch)
DAVE FIPP: I would say this: We’ve done a lot of live drills. We haven’t tackled anybody to the ground on a kickoff or a punt, but we have set up a lot of live scenarios. We feel good about the group that we got. I’m really excited about those guys. Guys been working hard, training hard, preparing hard.
But I would say going into any game, yeah, sure, there is some unknowns. I think it’s probably the same on offense and defense. But we’re definitely excited about the group, and I’m excited to get this game going. It is definitely different not having the pre-season games, but at the end of the day, none of us have it. We’re excited at the opportunity that lies ahead for us.
Q. Wanted to talk to you, obviously you’re probably pretty excited that guys like S Rudy Ford, CB Craig James made the final 53. What is sort of the coach’s process in that roster cut down? Do you pound the table for guys like that? Can you take us behind the scenes with that? (John McMullen)
DAVE FIPP: I would say one great thing about this organization is we got great leadership in [executive vice president/general manager] Howie [Roseman] and Coach Pederson [head coach Doug Pederson] and those guys, and we do have a lot of collaboration. I think for myself, I obviously appreciate that. I think we have a voice. For myself individually, I definitely don’t make the cuts and the final decisions, but we definitely have a voice.
I think some of these guys maybe played better on special teams than on offense or defense, and maybe the back end of the roster, some of those guys maybe have more of special teams role.
Then obviously the front of the roster is the opposite of that. The higher up the guy is, the less special teams role he has, the more his value on offense and defense probably plays into these things.
At the end of the day for me, I can voice my opinion and say how I think any particular player is or how good he is, and then ultimately those guys have the tough decisions to make.
Q. As a follow-up to that, last year you were saying how you had to kind of convince Malcolm Jenkins to take fewer special teams snaps in practice. S Rodney McLeod is a veteran who has played quite a bit of special teams for you. Is that a conversation you have had to have, or are planning to have with Rodney, and do you still view him as having a special teams role? (Zach Berman)
DAVE FIPP: Obviously before our first game I’m not going to share all that with you. We’ll let some of that be a surprise for you and for Washington.
Rodney does a great job. Just like Malcolm. Both those guys were safeties on our kickoff team for a lot of years. We’ll see what ends up happening on Sunday, but Rodney is definitely a valuable piece for us both on defense and special teams. And he’s a great leader for us.
He’s a guy who came up as a special teams player. He was an undrafted free agent in this league. Ended up playing special teams. Made a four core contribution early in his career and then ended up becoming a starter on defense and then became a free agent and wound up here.
So he’s just a great story. He helps out all the younger players, talks to those guys about where they are and how he made it and shares his story. So he’s been a great help for us on special teams.
No matter how much he plays he’s still really beneficial for us.
Q. Who are one or two young players that have kind of impressed you that you think can really make an impact this year? (Dave Zangaro)
DAVE FIPP: We’ve got a bunch of them. I will say this: I mean, and I’m not trying to dodge the question, but we really have a bunch of good, young players. I was excited about the draft class. Obviously the two young linebackers have done a nice job for us. [S] K’Von Wallace has done a really nice job for us. All those wide outs. [WR] Jalen Reagor has done a nice job for us. We’ve gotten a lot out of all those guys, and I think all those guys will play a big role for us.
The other thing I would say is we got a bunch of guys stacked on our practice squad. I’m not going to go into the individual names, but a bunch of those guys we’re really excited about. This year a bunch of those guys will play a role for us also, so we’re excited about the group we got to work with.
Q. I don’t know if you pay attention to this or this is on your radar, but Football Outsiders last year had K Jake Elliott as the best kickoff kicker in the league, but the coverage unit itself was pretty below advantage. Is that how you viewed things last year, and how do you make the coverage unit better? (Bo Wulf)
DAVE FIPP: I have no idea to be honest with you. All I can tell you is — I don’t look at football outsiders. I have been told before certain statistics about individual players, and I would say I’m sure there is a lot of good information in there, but I would say that there is — I think there is a lot of bad information out there quite frankly.
I mean, they don’t know what the goal or the intent of any one particular kick is. They don’t know the goal of what the coverage is. They don’t know the situation of the game. A lot of those statistics don’t account for the situations in the game.
Again, I’m not trying to knock the source. I’m sure there is a lot of valuable information in there. We do look at a lot of statistics and study a lot of different things. There are some of those rankings they don’t tell you the formulas that they’re using or how they come up with them.
So we don’t put a whole lot into that. I couldn’t really tell you exactly what they’re looking at. I can tell you I like Jake Elliott a lot. Excited about him. And I can tell you I like this coverage group, and we’re excited to go out and watch these guys play on Sunday.
Q. You mentioned a little bit about WR Jalen Reagor. Seems like you guys are pretty high on him as far as a special teams player, maybe as a returner or something like that. Obviously, you’re trying to replace a guy like Darren Sproles as a punt returner. If you can describe how Jalen has done so far, and if he can play Sunday, how that might affect your plans. (Martin Frank)
DAVE FIPP: Jalen has done a great job for us. Really excited about him. I know the last time I was with you guys I spoke about how explosive he is with the ball in his hands and all that stuff. His college film and his track record, what he’s done in his career so far, we’re obviously excited about him.
Whether or not he plays or not obviously we’ll find out on Sunday. But I would say at the end of the day, all of us always have to have a bunch of contingency plans, probably this year more than ever. If he didn’t end up playing, then it would be the same thing as if he went down in the middle of the game.
So we got plans in place whether he’s out there or not. Again, we’re really excited about the group we got and excited to go against this Washington team. It’s a good football team. These guys got a talented crew back there. They got a really good returner. Their punter/kicker/snapper is a veteran group that’s been together for a long time.
We’re looking forward to matching up with them.
Q. How challenging is it when you have a lot of moving parts with injuries and now with the uncertainty with COVID? How many guys do you have to prepare to be returning the ball on both punting and kick returns? (Rob Maaddi)
DAVE FIPP: You definitely have to have a bunch of plans in place or a bunch of options in place if this guy can go, he can’t. If he’s down before the game, it’s a little bit different than if he’s down during the game just because you got the chance to bring somebody else up.
You got the new practice squad rules where you’re able to bring two guys up from the practice squad each week without exposing them to the waiver wire at the end of the game. So, you really got two extra spots to pick from.
You have the extra active player. We went from 46 to 47, and then you also had the extra offensive lineman. So really 48 on Game Day. So there is a lot of different variabilities.
I would say at the end of the day, our job has been to have a lot of contingency plans in place. Throughout my time here we’ve used a handful of different snappers, had different kickers in the middle of a game. We’ve had that stuff pop up. We’ve had different kickers week to week due to injury.
So you’re always contingency planning. To answer your question, probably even a little bit more than in the past. You’re repping your second, third groups a little bit more, especially early in the year, because there is a strong feeling that at some point those guys are going to play.
And then to go back to the practice squad situation we got 17 guys — we have 17. We got the extra international player; everyone else got 16. But we got some extra bodies there.
At the end of the day, really getting those guys ready to play, too. At some point, just like every year, those guys will come up and contribute for us. Yeah, you’re always trying to develop players, and you’re also always trying to be as good as you can be on any given week, and also making sure that you’re developing those guys for the future.
Q. Who will the starting and kick and punt returners be on week one? (Jimmy Kempski)
DAVE FIPP: I would say nice try on that, but I admire the effort [laughter]. We’ll find out Sunday.
Q. Let me just ask you about your punt return situation. Last year you averaged probably less than you have since you got here in 2013. I know you’re excited about this bunch. How much better do you feel it needs to be this year? (Paul Domowitch)
DAVE FIPP: I would never put any predictions. I would say at the end of the day for us, the biggest thing is winning the football game. There is a lot of different situations that come into play. You can try to just get yards and return yards and all that stuff.
It depends like — I mean, sometimes return average is down but guys are fielding the ball more than other players. Sometimes the situation of the game you’re playing with a lead more than you’re playing from behind, and that really dictates what you’re doing or how aggressive you’re trying to be in the return game.
So I would say there is just a lot of the different variables to that. I mean, how often is it fourth and two or fourth and one or fourth and three versus fourth and 16? I think if you looked at like averages in different situations like that, you would find two totally different numbers.
And that’s to go back to some of the questions on some of those statistic websites, I don’t think a lot of those things put all that stuff into play. Some of those they don’t tell you the formula, so you don’t know what they do put into play.
Like I said, I never paid a lot of attention to any of that. I do track where we are. Bottom line is we always want to be better than we have been. I would say that every year, and we’re looking forward to this season and trying to become the best football team we’re going to be.
I know there will be some ups and downs along the way. That’s how this things works in the National Football League. At the end of the day for us, we got to continue to work to get just a little bit better every week. And that’s where our focus will be, preparation and work and try to become a little bit better every day.