Remember when Jalen Reagor returned a punt for a touchdown in the Green Bay game?

Seems like that was eons ago.

In recent weeks, opportunities have been limited, with Greg Ward back there instead. That would seem to be counterintuitive when you think about Reagor’s upside and the fact that returned punts at TCU with great success.

So special teams coordinator Dave Fipp was asked again about the punt returner situation, queried this week on whether or not he has the final say on which guy gets the nod:

“I would say it’s a collaborative effort, certainly not just my decision alone. I certainly have my opinions on how to best manage that in the best interest of the football team. We’ve talked about that throughout the course of the season, but I’ll say in general to your question it’s a collaborative effort with a lot of different people.” 

Follow-up question:

Why not use Reagor more?

“I think I’ve answered it every other week, if not every week but for us we’re trying to put him back there when he’s got the chance to affect the game in the biggest possible way. I’ll just give you an example, the other day CeeDee Lamb was out there just a handful of times, they spilled #11 (Cedrick Wilson) in there when the situation wasn’t quite as returnable. I think CeeDee was back there for two returns, he had 6 yards. We got Jalen back there for one in a real returnable situation. The other situations it was 4th and 1 or they were punting in the plus 50 area of the field and the return opportunities were a lot less. So, we’re just trying to manage his load, put him back there when he has a chance to affect the outcome of the game in the biggest way possible. In that game he had 1 return for 15 yards.” 

It’s an interesting answer, and the reasoning makes sense. If you’re hemmed in with little room to work with, you probably want the veteran guy with reliable hands back there fielding a fair catch or deciding whether to let the ball bounce. Ward is the more steady option and gives you ball security, even if he’s inexplicably decided to let some balls drop without fielding them.

Reagor would make more sense if the opponent was punting from their own territory and you had more field to work with. There’s more space to operate and he’s not going to have gunners immediately in his face. There’s less of a chance for a back-breaking muff inside your own red zone.

That said, the counter-thinking goes something like this:

What difference does it really make?

This team has struggled all year long creating explosive plays and adding chunk yardage on returns. You could justify having the more dynamic Reagor back there on a full-time basis, to try to make a play and give you a spark, and also to get him going in the passing game as well. If you’re a four-win football team, being steady and conservative isn’t exactly going to get you over the hump. Plus, you’ve got an aggressive, play-calling head coach, so matching that philosophy with the special teams unit would be understandable.

On the season, this is what the returner stats look like:

Not a lot of opportunities for Reagor. Just four returns total, four fair catches, and a handful of balls that weren’t fielded. Ward has had the bulk of the action and hasn’t done much with it.

It’s a curious thing, the approach to the punt returner position. Add it to the list of quizzical items we’ve discussed during a forgettable Eagles season.