Special teams, often overlooked?

Special teams,  often overlooked?

Special teams, an area of a team that generally is often overlooked, though it is an important facet of any NFL team. Teams that often excel on special teams have an advantage in the many close encounters weekly fought on the gridiron across the National Football League. Not a glorious job, but a player that displays an uncanny ability to be productive in the kick

Many of the 12 playoff teams in the 2002 season were ranked in the top half of the league on special teams. One team in particular was outstanding in the special teams game, that team being the Philadelphia Eagles. Success breeds copycat schemes in the game today. When looking to improve this critical area of the game, teams have started to lure away the core talent from the Eagles special teams depth.

Covering kicks is just one of the many aspects of special teams play that is often overlooked, but as important as a key block on a successful run or pass play. Brian Mitchell, a former Philadelphia Eagles star has made a career for himself in the kick return game. Known as the most proficient return specialist of all-time, Mitchell continues to excel in the game today, and will be returning kicks for the New York Giants.

Looking for help in the special teams game, as well at linebacker, the Cleveland Browns signed free agent Barry Gardner from the Philadelphia. Always looking to fill out the roster with players that bring the intangibles to the table, Browns head coach Butch Davis quickly scooped up the Eagles leader of special teams tackles in 2002 with 23.

In Philadelphia, the players change but the results have been a model of consistency.

John Harbaugh rounds up the best special teams units in the NFL today. Known throughout the league as one of the best special teams coaches in the game today, Harbaugh will once again be the point man to ensure that the Eagles continue to thrive in this ever important area. Losing Mitchell and Gardner in free agency, as well as punter Sean Landeta, the loss of these highly productive players would raise a serious concern to many teams, in Philadelphia this change constitutes yet another challenge for the Harbaugh and the Eagles.

"Every year is challenging, and, as coaches, we always deal with turnover," Harbaugh said.  "Our core roster was probably more unsettled last year than this year.  I am very excited about the talent we have and the season ahead." 

Among many attributes that are a necessity to achieve as a special teams player, Harbaugh's keys to success are the ability to be physical, with ample speed, and a desire to be successful, while not necessarily being in the spotlight.

"We talk a lot about geometry, specifically about angles and spacing," he says.  "Once players understand this, it becomes easier to do the job.  They need to anticipate where to be and then have the ability to get there."

In the NFC East where the division is tight and the play is notoriously physical, special teams play be the difference that puts a team over the top. Mitchell, a 13-year veteran has spent his entire career with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Holding numerous NFL records, he still maintains a significant place in the game today.

"I was a guy who said he would never return punts and kickoffs," says Mitchell.  "I thought people who did it were crazy.   Now I'm going into my 14th year doing it.  I feel I still have a lot in the tank and I can be an important part of the team."

Below contains a summary of special teams statistics from the 2002 season:

Most KR – 40+ yards

 

Most PR – 20+ yards

 

Highest KR Avg.

 

Lowest KR Avg.-Opp.

 

Detroit

8

NY Jets

10

Philadelphia

24.9

Carolina

18.5

New Orleans

7

New Orleans

7

New Orleans

24.8

Jacksonville

19.5

Atlanta

6

Philadelphia

7

Detroit

24.6

San Diego

20.0

Baltimore

6

Dallas

6

Tampa Bay

24.1

Tennessee

20.0

Cincinnati

6

San Francisco

6

NY Jets

23.8

Cleveland

20.4

Philadelphia

6

Washington

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highest PR Avg.

 

Lowest PR Avg.-Opp.

 

Avg. Drive Start-KR (Receiving Team)

 

Avg. Drive Start-KR (Kicking Team)

 

NY Jets

16.0

Detroit 4.5

NY Jets

31.7

Tennessee

24.8

San Francisco

14.1

Atlanta 4.7

New England

31.4

New Orleans

25.3

New Orleans

13.9

New Orleans 5.5

Philadelphia

31.1

Atlanta

26.1

Kansas City

13.5

Houston 5.7

Dallas

30.6

Carolina

26.2

Cleveland

13.2

Indianapolis 5.8

Kansas City

30.1

Philadelphia

26.6

   Teams in italics are 2002 playoff clubs

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