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News » Eagles Notebook: Good punt returning could set the tone for Eagles vs. Vikings

Eagles Notebook: Good punt returning could set the tone for Eagles vs. Vikings

Eagles Notebook: Good punt returning could set the tone for Eagles vs. Vikings
There's a decent chance the Eagles-Vikings wild-card playoff game this Sunday will be low-scoring, given that both defenses are accomplished - the Birds' D ranked third in the NFL this season, the Vikings were sixth.

A special-teams touchdown, or even a significant field-position boost from a return, could be a very big deal. And the Vikings just happen to have allowed four punt-return TDs this season. The Eagles employ a young fellow, DeSean Jackson, who is capable of taking advantage of such an opportunity.

"In their kickoff coverage, they've been solid," Eagles special teams coordinator Rory Segrest said yesterday, when asked about the Vikings. "They've done a really good job there. In their punt-return game, their numbers aren't really great there. They did give up four punt returns [for touchdowns], but all of them were really early in the season. As a matter of fact, three of those four punt returns for a touchdown were within the first five games. I think the last touchdown they gave up was around midseason. They've done a lot, in terms of making some improvements there. They haven't given up anything big in the last few weeks. Again, it's a situation where, if we do get a returnable ball, it's going to come down to the blocking and execution on things and hopefully we can get a return in there."

It was the ninth game of the season, when Minnesota saw the Packers' Will Blackmon bring a punt back 65 yards for a score, matching what he'd also done against the Vikings in the season opener. The Saints' Reggie Bush brought two back for scores against the Vikes on Oct. 6.

Segrest has dangerous returners in Jackson and kickoff man Quintin Demps, but they also are rookies making their postseason debuts, in a dome, which is something the Eagles have not experienced this season.

"Obviously, we have to make great decisions every time we go back there, from a punt standpoint of knowing when to catch it, when to fair catch it, [or when to try] to get the return," Segrest said. "Also from a kick-return standpoint, in terms of when to bring the ball out, should it be kicked deep [with no wind resistence].

"The lighting is going to be a little bit different for them. We have to make sure we get out and catch plenty of balls during pregame. It shouldn't be an issue, but it is a first time for those guys, so it is a concern that we have going in. We feel like both those guys will be sound in what they do. They have a whole season under their belt, so we're excited about the opportunity of getting them back there."

Jackson and Demps have one touchdown return apiece this season. Demps, a safety, also is an asset in kick coverage; last week he forced a fumble from Dallas returner Adam "Pacman" Jones just before the end of the first half that the Eagles were able to convert into a field goal.

The dome enviornment might help Eagles punter Sav Rocca, the NFC special-teams player of the month in September, whose ranking dropped steadily once the weather turned. Segrest has said Rocca, who is 6-5, has a longer drop than many, and wind makes him less consistent.

"We feel like that's definitely going to be a point there," Segrest said. "I remember that last year he had that 65-yarder there in the dome at the end of the [Eagles' 23-16 victory at Minnesota Oct. 28]. [Weather] definitely affects the drop on things. It affects whether or not we want a directional punt. Again, that confidence standpoint of knowing he can stick with his base techniques and be able to get the job done. Sav did finish up this year with a higher gross and net punting average than he did last year. This is our first time punting in a dome, so we feel like it should be an advantage of his."

Rocca ended up setting an Eagles single-season record for average net (37.9) this season, despite not driving the ball as well down the stretch. Strong coverage was a help. His gross was an impressive 43.3. As a rookie from Australia in 2007, Rocca managed a 42.0-yard gross and a 34.5 net - when the Eagles' coverage teams were much more erratic.

BirdseedWith defensive end/tackle Victor Abiamiri (foot) all but officially sidelined again this week, Darren Howard will continue to get more reps, and Jim Johnson said he will move Juqua Parker inside more in passing situations. The Eagles might miss Abiamiri's run-stopping muscle . . . Johnson called Minnesota's Adrian Peterson "just a natural runner. A very gifted runner. He has that Gale Sayers -type feel about the game, and sliding and stuff like that. He's just a very gifted guy" . . . Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said he expects wide receivers Hank Baskett (knee) and Kevin Curtis (calf) to be less limited than they were last week against Dallas . . . Mornhinweg said tight end L.J. Smith (shoulder), listed as a limited practice participant yesterday, is day-to-day . . . Other than Abiamiri and right guard Shawn Andrews (back), who aren't expected to play, right tackle Jon Runyan (knee) was the only Eagle who completely sat out the abbreviated New Year's Day practice. *

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 2, 2009

J.R. Reed Name: J.R. Reed
Position: S
Age: 26
Experience: 5 years
College: South Florida
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