Eagles Notes: Eagles giving themselves options in the return game

Brandon Boykin is competing for a spot as a punt or kick returner. YONG KIM / Staff
Brandon Boykin is competing for a spot as a punt or kick returner. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: July 28, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson have the early edge as the Eagles' punt and kick returners, coach Andy Reid said Friday.

"Obviously we brought Boykin in to do that, so he's right there at both kick and punt," Reid said. "We know he can do both. He does have more kickoff than he does punt. Johnson has done it, so we're kind of leaving him in there right now as the primary punt guy."

The Eagles drafted Boykin in the fourth round out of Georgia. Johnson is an undrafted rookie from Tulsa. After last season's debacle in both return games, Reid made sure he at least stocked himself with some options.

The Eagles ranked 28th in the NFL in punt-return average and 31st in kick-return average in 2011. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Chad Hall handled the majority of punt returns. Running back Dion Lewis was the primary kick returner.

Both Jackson and Lewis could end up back in those roles, but they won't see many repetitions at training camp. Reid wants to give Boykin and Johnson - and a number of other candidates - as many opportunities as they can get.

Boykin, who holds almost all of Georgia's kick-return records, is also expected to compete with Joselio Hanson for the top nickel cornerback spot. He said he can handle both duties.

"Absolutely. That's what I would like," Boykin said. "Everybody wants to come in and play right away. And I'm going to do my best to be able to do both."

Hall, wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, and wide receiver Ron Johnson are expected to be Boykin's chief competitors for kick-return responsibilities. Damaris Johnson, who set the NCAA's all-time record for kickoff-return yardage at Tulsa, will see competition from Boykin, Hall, Ron Johnson, and cornerback Cliff Harris.

Even though Jackson will surely return some punts during the season, punt returning could be Johnson's ticket to making the team.

"Anyway possible," Johnson said. "I'm willing to do anything. If they want me to go down and be a gunner I'm willing to do that, too."

Rolle still starting

Brian Rolle entered training camp as the starting weakside linebacker, but he knows nothing will be handed to him.

"I know the opportunity that I have is great," Rolle said. "I'm coming off a good rookie season. I know Jamar [Chaney] is going to push me as hard."

Last year, Moise Fokou opened camp as the starter at weakside. Fokou held that spot for two regular-season games before he was moved to strong-side and Casey Matthews took over his spot after he failed at middle linebacker.

Matthews occupied weakside for all of one week. Rolle took over and started there for the remainder of the year. He arrived at Lehigh on the first team even though several linebackers with more NFL experience behind him on the depth chart.

Chaney started 16 games last season, the final 14 in the middle, but after the Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans and drafted Mychal Kendricks, he dropped to the second team. Chaney played at strong-side in the spring but is back at weakside to start camp and was practicing with the second team on Friday.

Keenan Clayton was at weakside on the third team. Matthews, who was at middle linebacker with the second team, and Fokou, who was the third-team strong-side, could also move back to weakside.

Extra points

Ryans and Rolle were the starting linebackers in the base nickel defense. . . . Reid gave Hanson the clear nod over Boykin at the nickel corner spot. "Boykin has to beat him out," he said.

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