Eagles reward Jones, a punter who made a difference

Donnie Jones signed a three-year contract. "I always wanted to be here in Philadelphia, he said."
Donnie Jones signed a three-year contract. "I always wanted to be here in Philadelphia, he said." (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: March 14, 2014

A case could be made that the Eagles' 2013 defensive MVP wasn't DeMeco Ryans or Trent Cole, but Donnie Jones.

Game after game and increasingly late in the season when the outcomes mattered so much, the Eagles punter pinned opposing offenses inside their own 20-yard line.

The difference between a drive that starts on the 10-yard line instead of the 30 can be considerable in determining success. And the Eagles knew going into the season that their defense would need all the help it could get as it transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

And that's where Jones, who signed a three-year contract with the Eagles on Tuesday, came in. His mastery of an Australian-rules-football-style kick pinned many an offense against the goal line and aided a bend-but-don't-break defense.

"I like [that] more and more people are starting to realize how important field position is in the NFL," Jones said Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. "Punting really dictates field position. And I think, being able to make a team drive 80 or 90 yards, obviously, it's difficult for them to score."

Jones led the NFL with 27 punts downed without a return. He finished tied for fourth in the league with a franchise-best 33 punts inside the 20-yard line. And he dropped 40.2 percent of his punts inside the 20.

Jones and special-teams coach Dave Fipp had decided before the season that inside the 12-yard line would be the barometer for a successful pooch kick. By that measure, he had 19 targeted kicks.

He credits the Aussie-style, end-over-end kick he first learned from Brad Wing's father, David, who kicked professionally in Scotland. Jones, of course, beat out Wing for the Eagles' punting job last season.

But Jones first started working on the technique before the 2012 season with the Texans. He said it wasn't until last season that he thought he had perfected it.

"I thought it was a real great tool," Jones said.

Jones, 33, could also boom punts if he wanted. He ended his first season in Philadelphia ranked first in team history in single-season net punting average (40.4) and third in gross punting average (44.9).

His 70-yard boot late in the Washington game pinned the Redskins on their own 4 and forced them to drive almost the entire field to win - a feat they could not pull off.

In the finale, he launched a 56-yard punt from the Eagles' own 19 that pushed the Cowboys deep into their own territory. A play later, Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass to seal the game.

Boykin was instrumental in Jones' success at directional kicking. Rather than focus on tackling as a gunner, Boykin worked on running through and turning back to down kicks that were aimed away from dangerous returners or inside the 20.

"Obviously, not allowing guys to return them also is huge because anytime they can get their hands on the ball they can hurt you," Jones said.

Last offseason, Jones signed a one-year contract. After nine seasons in the NFL, the last six kicking indoors at home, it was thought that his career was on the downside.

A year later, he could have entered free agency looking for the best offer. The Eagles couldn't sign him before Tuesday because he signed a minimum-benefits veteran contract last year.

Jones said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, talked with other teams, but the plan was always to return to Philly.

"I always wanted to be here in Philadelphia," Jones said. "Really for the first time in 10 years, I felt part of a family."

Jones said he knew almost immediately last spring that coach Chip Kelly placed great emphasis on special teams because of the amount of time spent working on the discipline in practice.

Special teams is sometimes an afterthought for coaches. Many teams don't work on them until the end of practice, when many of the players are exhausted. Kelly intersperses special-teams drills throughout.

The Eagles added two pieces to their special-teams units by signing free agents Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman on Wednesday.

The commitment - $6 million over three years with $1 million guaranteed - reflected Kelly's appreciation for Jones' work in 2013. His punt against the Cowboys showed that Jones could deliver in a big spot even if he briefly let the moment get to him.

"My body just started going numb," Jones said, "and then 'Crazy Train' came on and I happen to like Ozzy Osbourne and that kind of relaxed me a little bit."


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|