Birds Get Boost From Covey In Punt Return
PHILADELPHIA – Meticulous, detail-oriented and borderline obsessive in his preparation, Eagles punt returner Britain Covey met with the two new members of his punt return unit – defensive back Tristin McCollum and linebacker Brandon Smith – all the way up until Monday’s kickoff, watching film with them on his iPad.
Communication is key with Covey, the mastermind behind the team’s reinvigorated return unit.
Every new addition or substitution is subject to a crash-course of his world, to ensure tendencies are exploited and details are buttoned up to maximize minimal opportunities.
Only 85 seconds in Monday’s game had elapsed before the Giants were forced to trot out punter Jamie Gillan, who booted a 41-yard punt to the Philadelphia 33-yard-line.
Waiting at the other end was the slippery Covey, who fielded the punt on the left side, eluded a few tackles before redirecting and cutting across the field and up the right sideline.
The dynamic return covered a career-high 54 yards but also demonstrated his leadership, ownership of his role, and the overall communication of the whole unit.
The run-back returned possession to the offense at the New York 13, and two plays later, the Eagles broke open a scoreless game, courtesy of a 1-yard plunge from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“It wasn’t his best punt,” Covey said after. “Something that I pride myself on is just try not to let the ball hit the ground. But not talking about catching it and muffing it, but there’s a lot of balls that guys can get to, that they don’t because it will be a difficult catch.
“They let it drop and then it bounces and rolls 15 yards. And so, I always pride myself on getting to those and catching them. This was one of those balls – it was a forward kick – and so I was halfway deciding if I should call ‘Peter’ and let it bounce, or if I should run up and try and grab it. You gotta have a quick instinct, a quick reaction.”
In total, Covey produced 66 yards on three returns on Christmas, propelling him ahead of Chargers returner Derius Davis for the league-leader in yards (409) and second in average (14.6).
His ability to jumpstart a recently lethargic offense was the byproduct of collective buy-in from those on his unit.
Generally speaking, the third-phase units are typically comprised of backups and young players, which can sometimes lead to fluidity, which can manifest in a disjointed unit without the right amount of preparation.
Led by Covey, the Eagles’ return unit works behind the scenes to be as prepared as possible for these situations.
So when the newly inserted Smith and McCollum joined the fold against the Giants, it was essentially business as usual.
“Well, I think it’s not challenging, emotionally,” Covey said. “Because when guys get called up, they are so fired up, you never will doubt their effort. And so, I actually like when we call guys up from the practice squad and put them on to my unit because I know that these guys will obsess over their roles and give 100% effort because it might be the only chance that they get.”
But Covey’s contributions weren’t solely relegated to special teams.
On the Eagles’ second offensive possession, the shifty ball-carrier made a cameo at his natural wide receiver spot and picked up seven yards on a 2nd-and-10 short toss.
While the reception – Covey’s first – was a mere footnote in the 33-25 victory, it showcased the second-year pro’s versatility and burst in space.
It also demonstrated the confidence the coaching staff has in Covey, while speaking to his practice habits.
According to Covey, the offensive snaps were weeks in the making.
“Honestly, I saw an uptick around Week 5 this season,” Covey said. “Partly because they know I’m a good player and partly because Smitty is usually injured and can’t make all the practices [laughs].
“I was playing a little bit – if you remember the Tampa Bay game and the Washington game – but once we signed Julio [Jones], I was no longer receiver [No.] 5. I was receiver 6. Right now, I just own my role and I give the confidence to the coaches as a receiver if anything happens.”
Given his role, Covey doesn’t typically garner the necessary volume to churn out chunk plays.
Every time he takes the field, Covey – who is on the Pro Bowl ballot as a punt returner – is determined to make an impact, regardless how big or small.
Against the Giants, who fielded the league’s most proficient coverage team, the Eagles were better. And just like his weekly directives to his teammates on return, Covey’s objective is clear.
“They’re the best coverage unit in the league,” Covey said. “I wanna end as the best return unit in the league. So, it’s good-on-good. I never shy away from a battle.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.