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Eagles Rookie Responds to Drastic Change on Special Teams


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Eagles Rookie Responds to Drastic Change on Special Teams

  • Updated Dec 31, 2021 at 12:33pm
Kenny Gainwell

Getty:  Eagles RB Kenny Gainwell has taken over the kick-return duties for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to switch kick returners largely went under the radar. Jalen Reagor was having some ball security issues, so Kenny Gainwell took over in Week 15 against the Washington Football Team. Like a wardrobe change at the Oscars, it was over before anyone noticed.

Gainwell took three kick returns back for 71 yards, including a long of 31 yards on December 21. And, after fumbling his first one in Week 16, the rookie running back ripped off two returns for 30 yards versus New York on December 26. Gainwell hasn’t been exponentially better than Reagor, but give him time. He’s just getting started.

"I continue to play my role and do my thing,” Gainwell told reporters. "I’m a guy who stays motivated throughout anything, and I just take it day by day. I have a positive spirit about everything. I just come to work, do my job, and continue to work.”

The Eagles haven’t been afraid to use Gainwell all over the field. He’s proven to be a reliable rusher (55 carries for 209 yards, four touchdowns) and pass-catcher out of the backfield (29 receptions for 244 yards, one touchdown). And now he’s taking on increased responsibility on special teams (six returns for 116 yards).

"I think I’ve done great, just being a rookie who can come in and do multiple things, in the slot, out wide, in the backfield running routes,” said Gainwell. "I feel like I put in a lot of work to come out with a great season as a rookie.”

Special Teams Coach Explains Fumbled Return

Eagles special teams coordinator Michael Clay used Gainwell’s fumbled kick return as a teaching point. Sure, the Giants’ defense made a nice play to get a helmet on the ball but the youngster needs to cover it up. Luckily, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was there to make the recovery.

"You’re in a crowd, let’s just cover it up,” Clay said. "If he falls, he’s going to fall forward to the 25, 26. Balls pops out, we’re fortunate enough that J.J. was in the right place at the right time and got on it and saved a disaster play from happening.”

Gainwell fumbled it at the 20-yard-line and Arcega-Whiteside grabbed it at the 23. He’s watched the film and moved on.

"Continue to learn,” Gainwell said. "That and build on it.”

Reagor Keeping Punt Return Job

Reagor may have lost his job as the lead kick returner, but he’s still entrenched as the top punt returner. The second-year receiver has 30 punt returns for 220 yards through 15 games this season. Reagor almost broke one in Week 16 when he took it back 39 yards. He had messaged Clay prior to the game about busting loose for a big return.

"I don’t think the confidence ever wavers for Jalen,” Clay said. "It’s funny, I was on my morning commute to the stadium and I rarely get a text from anybody before 9 on Sundays. I got a text from Jalen saying he was going to get one this week.”


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Just knowing Reagor isn't back there on every single kick is enough for me. And I think Gainwell looks like with a good block he could get a good gain whereas Reagor never does really. 

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