— One area the Philadelphia Eagles could use the most improvement in this season is field position created by their special teams, particularly kickoff return.
Last season, their average of 20.9 yards per return (with a long of 33) was higher only than that of the pitiful Indianapolis Colts. Yet it was an improvement over the 20.5 average in each of the previous two seasons.
The high mark of 33 yards last season was the lowest in the league.
For a team that boasts so many explosive athletes and exceptional wide-receiver depth, it was unacceptable and almost unexplainable.
"We were bad there," special teams coordinator Bobby April understated during minicamp last month. "No question about it."
April quickly tried to shift blame to himself, but that was just lip service. Fact is, he was only part of a larger problem that has characterized this team for almost the entire time Andy Reid has been head coach.
Not since Brian Mitchell in 2002 have the Eagles had a legitimate threat to consistently break long kickoff returns. Quintin Demps did take one back all the way in 2008, but averaged just 23.8 yards on his other 51 attempts that season.
J.R. Reed in 2004 showed some potential as a rookie — until a freak offseason injury derailed his career.
For 10 years, the Eagles have searched — though not very hard — for the next Mitchell, who was 32 years old when he first arrived in Philadelphia in 2000 and likely is still more capable than everyone they've trotted out there since.
That might have changed this spring with the drafting of cornerback Brandon Boykin, the front-runner to take the primary return job from Dion Lewis, whose ability and decision-making came into question throughout their 8-8 season.
Boykin set University of Georgia career records for kickoff returns (110), yards (2,663) and touchdowns (four). This is in addition to being a good-enough cornerback to last longer than Demps, a safety who never fit into their system, and Reed, who never had that kind of ability even when 100 percent.
Add wide receiver Damaris Johnson into the mix as well. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Tulsa did it all in college and is ready to do the same at this level, despite his slight dimensions (5-foot-8, 175).
"I just think they're going to give me every opportunity in order to make this squad," Johnson said. "... To be a good returner, you have to be fearless. Instead of running side to side, you have to run up and down the field."
Boykin believes instincts fuel good returners more than experience.
"For me, it was always there," he said. "I didn't really return until my sophomore year [at Georgia], and me being in that unknown position was kind of an advantage because I didn't know what was going on. All I wanted to do was just run and make an impact.
"So I just kind of kept that same tenacity throughout my career."
Maybe they fit into the punt-return teams as well, even though the Eagles already have one of the best in the game, DeSean Jackson, at their disposal.
But because Jackson, who an electric returner who has four career TDs and averaged 15.2 yards in 2009, just signed a long-term contract extension this year, there is a strong possibility he will be pulled off punts the same way Brian Westbrook was when he became their starting running back in 2004.
Reid became so ridiculously stubborn about this that he might have even cost his team a playoff berth in 2007, which opened with a brutal 16-13 loss at Green Bay in which Greg Lewis muffed a return that was pounced on for the Packers' only touchdown. The Packers later kicked the winning field goal after recovering a muff by Reed, who was thrown in there only because they had lost all faith in Lewis.
In the meantime, Westbrook was completely healthy that day and in fact went on to have his best season, which was wasted when the team fell one win shy of a postseason berth.