PHILADELPHIA – We conclude our position-by-position look at the Philadelphia Eagles with a piece on the specialists.
Punter: Donnie Jones
Long snapper: Jon Dorenbos
State of the specialists: The Eagles had very good special teams again in 2015, but they are at a bit of a crossroads with their specialists.
Jones had an excellent season. He set an Eagles franchise record with his 41.6-yard net average. He also placed 29 of his 86 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
But Jones will also be 36 next summer. While punters can continue to work into their 40s, every player hits a point of diminishing returns. Jones didn’t look like he was close to that in 2015, but the Eagles don’t want to wait until it’s too late to find an alternative.
The same goes for Dorenbos. The long snapper also turns 36 in July and has been an Eagle for 10 years. Those things are true because Dorenbos has been outstanding at his job.
During the Eagles’ 20-19 loss to Miami, Dorenbos had a couple of bad snaps. One contributed to a blocked punt, the other to a missed field goal. As Dorenbos put it, “I get paid to throw strikes. I threw balls.”
The Eagles worked out a couple of long snappers in the aftermath of that game. The team decided to stick with Dorenbos.
A new coaching staff is coming in, but head coach Doug Pederson spent four seasons as an Eagles assistant under Andy Reid. Dorenbos was the long snapper for those four years. Special teams coach Dave Fipp is returning for his fourth season in that position.
So Dorenbos is likely to be back in 2016. It wouldn't be surprising if he faces competition in training camp, though.
With kicker Cody Parkey, the issue isn’t age. Parkey is only 23. He went to the Pro Bowl last year after his rookie season with the Eagles. It looked as if the Eagles had found their kicker for the next decade or so.
And maybe they have. But Parkey injured a groin late in training camp. He tried to rest it, then tried to play through it. After three games, he was placed on injured reserve.
The Eagles worked out a handful of kickers and signed former Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis. In his first game, at Washington, Sturgis missed a 33-yard field goal and an extra point. The Eagles lost 23-20.
Coach Chip Kelly decided to stick with Sturgis. None of the other candidates looked like they were going to be improvements. Kelly thought it made more sense to show some confidence in Sturgis and let him work his way into shape.
Sturgis made 18 of 21 field-goal tries the rest of the way. Two of his misses were from 50 yards. As for a 32-yard try that missed, Dorenbos took blame for a low snap. Sturgis only missed one more extra-point try, and that came during a 39-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
During the season, Sturgis said he knew he was only holding down the job until Parkey was eligible to resume kicking. Parkey is likely to be back on the field in OTAs. But until he shows his groin will hold up while he’s kicking at a high level, there’s a good chance Sturgis will remain on the roster.
Good specialists are hard to find, at any age.