Special teams could be an area of concern in 2003

<b>These past few years, the Eagles special teams were just that, special. With the best kicker in the NFL in David Akers, one of the most consistent punters in Sean Landeta, and possibly the greatest return man of all-time in Brian Mitchell, the Eagles Special Teams Unit was a force to be reckoned with. They consistently led the NFL in return yardage and held opponents to minimal return yardage, setting the offense and defense up with great field position. Oh how the times have changed.</b>

Gone are two thirds of that puzzle, (Landeta signed with the Rams and Mitchell signed with the Giants), and in are some new pieces who hope to make the special teams unit a formidable one just as it has been. When the Eagles went into the first minicamp with Dirk Johnson as their only punter, many eyebrows were raised and questions asked, because no one had heard of him. After that first mini-camp, however, the front office decided that they needed to upgrade that position, so they signed former Raven Kyle Richardson. He was available on the market because of inconsistency, but he was good enough to punt for a Super Bowl winning team three years ago, so he must have some talent. Right now, that position may have a question mark over it, but the questions will be answered soon enough.

David Akers returns to do the placekicking duties for the Eagles, and is widely considered around the league as the best kicker in the NFL. His leg is powerful and accurate, and always boots it deep on kickoffs. Joining him is long snapper Mike Bartrum, who like Akers, is considered top-of-the-line at his job, add holder Koy Detmer to the mix, and that's one solid field goal unit. Eagle fans should have no reason to worry about the Eagles field goal kicking.

When veteran leader, and return specialist Brian Mitchell bolted for New York this off-season, a huge gap was left in his place. A stalwart at kick and punt returning, Andy Reid could always count on Mitchell for a solid return and to never fumble. If Mitchell had a flaw, it was his lack of a second-gear and top end speed, and the Eagles think that his replacement will have both.

Brian Westbrook, a second year running back from Villanova, is expected to fill those big shoes, but if his college career is any indication, it should be no problem. In division II football, he broke every record one could imagine, and no matter what level he played, it is obvious that the kid has skills. Westbrook is well trained for the job, and he seems to be up to the challenge.

Overall, the Special Teams Unit for the Eagles may not be as great as last year on paper, but with more speed on coverage units and at kick returner, Eagle Fans can at least be assured that the Special Teams will be exciting to watch.

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