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Special Teams Absorbs Another Key Injury
October 19, 2017 04:11 PM | Dave Spadaro
Just how many personnel losses can Dave Fipp's special teams units sustain and continue to win every week? The latest is Chris Maragos, who was placed on Injured Reserve after suffering a knee injury last Thursday in the win over Carolina.

Maragos follows placekicker Caleb Sturgis, who went on IR after the Week 1 win at Washington. Darren Sproles was next, lost for the season with a torn ACL and a broken forearm suffered in the win over the Giants.

Two key guys there. Now a third with Maragos gone. Changes all over on special teams, starting with the late-summer trade of Jon Dorenbos, the long snapper for nearly a decade.

And yet the special teams unit keeps playing great football.

Rick Lovato won the job as long snapper, replacing Dorenbos, and he's done a fine job working with holder Donnie Jones and keeping the "operation" intact. Jake Elliott was signed off the Bengals' practice squad, a masterful stroke by the Eagles' personnel department, and is on a 10-straight-field-goals-made streak. Kenjon Barner was signed off the streets, another strong move by the Eagles, and all Barner did was win the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week award after helping beat the Cardinals with three big punt returns to set up quarterback Carson Wentz and the offense.

So now what without Maragos, the team's personal protector on punts and a key Eagle in kickoff and punt coverage?

"It's hard. Not only a great football player but a great person, a great man," head coach Doug Pederson said of the captain. "Great leader on the team, in the locker room, on and off the football field. It's hard, but again it's something we've been faced with already this season. Next man steps up and fills that role."

Rookie Nathan Gerry joins the active roster and is going to have a chance to help the cause, if he dresses on gamedays. The Eagles have standout special teamers in place with Trey Burton and Dexter McDougle and Corey Clement and Najee Goode and Kamu Grugier-Hill, who is tied with Maragos for the team lead in special teams tackles with six. Maragos, though, has been the leader and the inspirational lightning rod and the player who opposing special teams look to erase in coverage.

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His loss is significant.

The Eagles, though, truly believe in the "next man up" principle. As much as everyone understands how much the loss of Maragos means, the special teams unit is prepared to give someone else an opportunity to step up. Corey Graham takes the reps as the personal protector on punts. Graham, an accomplished special teamer in his career before becoming a full-time starter, will take on a significant role in every area of special teams. A collection of players will fill the void created by Maragos' absence in coverage.

At safety, Graham is healthy and a solid veteran behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Jaylen Watkins is well-versed in the defense and can play safety and cornerback. The Eagles are fine in the secondary, another area where they've shown impressive depth.

"One, I think that we don't make a big deal over the actual injury," Pederson said, explaining why he thinks the Eagles have been able to absorb some significant injury challenges through seven weeks this season. "It's part of the game. It's part of football. Two, I think we've done a good job, and we implemented it in OTAs (Organized Team Activities), we began a developmental program with some of our younger players and getting them more reps, whether it was splitting the two fields or spending time after practice.

"Coaches do a great job spending time with their younger players and that next guy, that next man. I think that's been a big part of why there hasn't been a significant drop-off in the play."

So they look ahead. The task is to improve from the week before and the Eagles have a tough challenge with Jamison Crowder in the return game and Washington's physical special teams in coverage on Monday night.

Mourn Maragos' loss, and move on. It's the way of the world in the NFL and it's the way the Eagles have stayed on top in the special teams phase of the game even in the face of serious personnel losses.

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