May 9, 2024   5 MIN READ

Covey Vs. The Field

Birds Loaded Up On Returners


Refurbishing a roster largely in transition, the Eagles have had as active of an offseason as any team.

Additional offensive firepower was stockpiled, while the defense underwent a facelift at the second and third levels. The shuffling also extended to the coordinator and positional coaching ranks.

Among the more under-the-radar developments, however, centers around the return game in light of the new kickoff rule.

The new rule places a greater emphasis and value on both coverage and return specialists, and the Eagles suddenly boast a roster brimming with return optionality, after last year’s pairing – Boston Scott and Britain Covey – went largely uncontested in training camp.

We took a look at five players who could factor into the equation this summer.

Britain Covey

PR/WR Britain Covey

Covey, the battle-tested, uber-productive incumbent, is expected to engage in a fierce competition this summer. First in the NFL in punt return yards (417) and second in yards per return (14.4) last season, Covey emerged as one of the league’s premier punt returners.

His behind-the-scenes preparation along with his short-area quickness, penchant for keeping his eyes upfield, and synergy with his return unit can be directly attributed to his breakthrough.

The 27-year-old even logged his first NFL snaps last season, snaring four passes for 42 yards on six targets, prompting some dual-threat intrigue heading into Year 3.

But the Eagles now have viable options who offer roster flexibility. And while it’s unfair to pigeonhole Covey as one-dimensional – he injured his hamstring and missed most of camp last summer, curtailing any progress at WR – the offseason additions of Ainias Smith and Cooper DeJean offer positional value. Potentially something to keep an eye on.

DB Cooper DeJean

I know it’s early but I’m forecasting DeJean as a Week 1 starter at nickel, as I believe that’s the most logical place for the second-round pick to get onto the field. And I’m not entirely sure stretching a starter – in this case, a rookie – too thin this early in his career would be the soundest course of action.

But DeJean, who logged 241 punt return yards and a touchdown on 21 opportunities at Iowa a season ago, offers explosiveness, vision and splash-play potential as a punt returner. Like Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson and DeVonta Smith in the past, would DeJean be deemed too indispensable to undertake the role on a part-time basis? Or will the Eagles indulge DeJean’s game-breaking, field-flipping allure?

Isaiah Rodgers

GETTY IMAGES: If he makes the team, CB Isaiah Rodgers also offers return abilities.

CB Isaiah Rodgers

While I’m of the belief that expectations for Rodgers have been far too lofty – and that whatever the Eagles can muster could be viewed as a bonus – the former Colts cornerback is an electric kickoff returner. For reference, the 26-year-old cornerback accumulated 1,645 career return yards and a touchdown over 61 opportunities (45 games).

The additions of rookies DeJean and Quinyon Mitchell complicate the cornerback pecking order, to the point where Rodgers isn’t a shoo-in to crack the 53-man roster. But Rodgers, who missed last season due to suspension, will be afforded every opportunity to compete for a spot.

If the Eagles think he can stick around, they’ll likely see the practicality in maximizing Rodgers’ versatility in a mainstay game day role returning kicks.

RB Will Shipley

A projected No. 3 running back – at least to start the season – Shipley’s touches figure to be at a premium for the rookie fourth-rounder. But if the Eagles want to maximize Shipley’s vision, acceleration and wiggle, the most logical way for them to do so in a meaningful capacity could be returning kicks, where he averaged 26.6 yards per return for his career, albeit over just 34 opportunities.

As the third running back active on gameday, Shipley’s backfield workload projects to be minimal. It also remains to be seen how effective he will be covering kicks and punts.

However, the return game could be a fast-track to playing time for the Clemson product. One potential hangup in this scenario could conceivably be the lack of depth behind starter Saquon Barkley, which could force the club to think twice about using a backup running back in the return game.

WR Ainias Smith

Smith, diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left shin during an evaluation at the NFL Scouting Combine, was a sideline spectator during rookie minicamp. The Eagles wisely appear to be bringing the fifth-round pick along slowly.

But it’s Smith’s ability to impact the game as a returner that could open his clearest path to playing time, ultimately climbing the pecking order and effectively making up ground among a crowded field. There’s even a world where Smith showcases enough promise in camp to seize the No. 3 receiving role behind starters A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, while also increasing his value on gameday as a returner.

For perspective, Smith returned two punts for touchdowns at Texas A&M, including one a season ago.  Dynamic with the ball in his hands and elusive in space, it is plausible to think the Eagles could have Smith moonlight as a punt returner.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

About The Author

Comments are closed here.