I wrote an article several months ago highlighting the thrill as an Eagles fan of having two explosive return men capable of breaking a kick for a touchdown on any given play.
This piece, titled “Quintin Demps and DeSean Jackson: The Future of the Eagles' Return Game,” told how the Eagles will most likely be blessed with having these players two returning kicks and punts for years and years to come.
All of a sudden, I'm not so sure.
And that's not a bad thing.
The Eagles recently acquired two more explosive return men to the roster—cornerback Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin from the University of Missouri.
After several years of a return game that featured less than thrilling players like Reno Mahe, J.R. Reed, Greg Lewis, Dexter Wynn, and Rod Hood, the Eagles boast FOUR legit return men.
The rookie Jackson made his mark as a Joshua Cribbs type of punt returner last season, averaging close to 10 yards per return, including a touchdown. Three times (including once in the playoffs), Jackson returned a punt over 60 yards.
His east-to-west style of running won't last in the NFL, but Jackson seemed to be maturing by the end of last season. He seemed to be settling down and really excelling in his role as the team's punt returner, while also filling in as McNabb's No. 1 go-to-guy for much of the year.
Demps doesn't have Jackson's flashiness, but he can flat out return kicks. Demps averaged 25.3 yards per return last season, taking a kick return unit that finished 24th in '07 up to 11th in '08. Demps is a big play threat like Jackson, but he's also much less risky.
Demps is simply a solid return man who won't fumble the football or run backwards to try to gain yards. Rather, he'll just get you a solid return every single time.
Last year with Jackson and Demps returning punts and kicks, the Eagles were one of just four teams in all of the NFL to record both a kick return and a punt return touchdown. And these two players were a major reason the team qualified for the playoffs after missing it in '07.
Now as the Eagles begin to prepare for the '09 season, Jackson and Demps will be assuming much bigger roles on the team.
In '08, Jackson was the team's No. 2 receiver—although he wasn't expected to start until Reggie Brown went down with an injury. For this coming season, he is expected to battle with Kevin Curtis to be the team's No. 1 receiver.
Demps was a little-used backup safety to Philadelphia's one and only Weapon X last season. However, with Dawkins wearing Bronco Blue now, Demps will most likely step up into the team's starting free safety role.
Although the team signed Sean Jones, an underrated ballhawk from the Cleveland Browns, his contract is only for one year. I think Demps will be the starter for this team next season, with Jones filling in on three-safety sets frequently.
Having Demps and Jackson concentrate on their starting positions AND return kicks is asking for a lot. Some players have managed it, but with the addition of Hobbs and Maclin, I imagine the latter two will be featured as the Eagles' new returners.
Hobbs was received in a draft day trade for two fifth-round draft picks. A starting corner for the Pats' Super Bowl team in '07, Hobbs is also a dynamic return man.
He led the entire AFC in kick return average last season (28.5) and holds the NFL record for the longest kick return touchdown (108 yards). Hobbs has three return touchdowns, one for each season of his career.
Simply put, he is a dangerous return man.
It appears as of now that Hobbs will compete for the starting corner job with Sheldon Brown. I can't envision Brown staying on the team—especially with the Eagles paying $25 million over five years to a fourth corner (Joselio Hanson). That means Samuel and Hobbs will most likely be the starters.
Hobbs has been a starting corner and kick returner for two full seasons and a part of another, so he hopefully won't have too much difficulty handling both the tasks.
Maclin is a rookie in the NFL, a young 20-year old who made his mark as a freshman in college, setting the NCAA freshman record for all-purpose yards in a season (2,776). Maclin averaged just over 24 yards per kick return both as a freshman and sophomore,.
Maclin also returned punts for the Missouri Tigers. While he wasn't as effective as he was a kick returner, Maclin returned more punts for touchdowns (three) than he did kicks (two) in his college career.
He is expected to start the season as the team's No. 3 receiver, which would be a prime opportunity for Maclin to take over the punt return duties.
No matter how Andy Reid splits up the returning duties, those days of losing games because of the return game are over. Long over.