Eagles special teams coach Bobby April reveals first team punt returner, kick returner

Per special teams coach Bobby April, the top punt returner right now is Damaris Johnson.  The top kick returner is Brandon Boykin.

Boykin, a 4th round pick out of Georgia, was pretty much a shoe-in to win a roster spot, and if Damaris Johnson can fend of his competition over the next month, he’ll find himself on the 53-man roster as well.

Bobby April said Damaris Johnson reminds him of Eric Gulliford, who April coached in New Orleans. I love that Bobby thinks hard about his answers and doesn’t just give you some name that everybody knows.

“Nobody may remember him,” said April, “but he played for us with the Saints, and it’s the only time that I, as a coach… where we ever led the NFL in opponent net punt.  Eric is not like Damaris because he’s not nearly as fast or nearly as quick, but he gets to every ball, they don’t hit the ground, they don’t roll, he made good decisions.  (Damaris) reminds me of (Gulliford) more than any of the others for that reason.”

That reminds me a little bit of Phil McConkey. In Super Bowl XXI (Giants vs Broncos), McConkey has a 25 yard punt return that set up a TD, and he also had a long TD on a flea flicker.  But that’s not what Bill Parcells praised.  He praised McConkey for hustling up the field on a couple short punts that he was able to field instead of letting them hit the ground and roll.  That is a very underrated and overlooked skill for a punt returner.

He also said Brandon Boykin reminds him of Tyrone Hughes, who he also coached with the Saints.

“Tyrone Hughes went to the Pro Bowl one year, led the league in kick returns with the Saints.  I can’t say he looks like Deion Sanders or Rod Woodson, but he’s very similar to Hughes.”

I’ll save you the trouble of looking up Hughes and Gulliford. Here are Gulliford’s and Hughes’ numbers in the years they played under April:

Player Att Yards Avg TD
Eric Gulliford, 1996-97 (as punt returner) 57 599 10.5 0
Tyrone Hughes, 1996 (as kick returner) 70 1791 25.7 0

April noted that Chad Hall, Dion Lewis, and Mardy Gilyard are also still in the mix, and had previously mentioned that DeSean Jackson could be used situationally.

A look at Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin on film after the jump…

Damaris Johnson:

Brandon Boykin:

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  11. Dynasty says:

    Harris ran a 4.65 at the combine, they may have been scared a linebacker or DT might track him down

    1. He sure doesn’t play like he ran a 4.65. Football speed has been very good.

  12. Steve says:

    Damaris Johnson kind of looks like Desean Jackson when he’s fielding punts, Damaris seems a little less agile than Desean but otherwise to the naked eye I bet one could be mistaken for the other at first glance.

  13. jack says:

    Whoa this doesn’t bode well for Cliff Harris sneaking onto the roster , does it Jimmy ? Is he talented enough to make the squad as a CB or does he have to be a major ST asset to stand any chance ?

    1. It certainly doesn’t help his chances. Looks like he’ll have to make it as a corner.

  14. ian no. 2 says:

    Cliff Harris didn’t even make the “in the mix” list. He had previously said he liked Harris as a punt returner. That may be a mistake or maybe not. Damaris is a more experienced PR and I see why he would want to start with him and keep him there, but you’d think Harris has a chance to be good, too.

    1. He spoke about Harris as well when directly asked about him and was complimentary of him, but as you noted, Harris did not get a mention in the “in the mix” part.

      1. Tracer Bullet says:

        Disappointing, but from what I’ve read, Harris might make the team at CB.

      2. ian no. 2 says:

        It’s possible that he was just rattling off a list of names and forgot to mention him.

        1. Yeah, that’s possible, but still telling.

      3. JasonB says:

        I think April just forgot to mention him. Because he was asked specifically about Harris later and said he was in the mix….

        “Absolutely. He is in it. We are working him in there and we know he is a really good player as well. He is in the mix. He is a good player. He’s another guy that is fighting for a position. If he ended up being the punt returner it would obviously elevate his status in the coaches’ eyes in terms of making the team. There’s a lot of things that we’re going to have to make real and wise prudent decisions on, that’s for sure.

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