Originally written on Eagles Eye  |  Last updated 11/13/14
There was a ton of NFL football to absorb on Sunday, even with the Birds not playing. I found myself using NFL football to escape the headlines from tragedies in the U.S.A. and around the world. I also found myself in the vice-grip of writer's block. To make it worse, there's a cold fog over the Delaware Valley today. Grim. It feels like the perfect atmosphere for a 4-10 team like the Eagles. It is especially depressing as the news of excitement among fans in D.C., New York and Dallas filters in. All those teams are in the thick of the division race at 8-6. I'm not jealous. After all, we earned our 10 losses the old-fashioned way. We were, at times, just terrible. I'll try to bounce back. Maybe it's time to start the speculative Draft talk in earnest. For right now I'll just bring in a guest writer... and we'll build more information and discussion onto that.         Damaris Johnson has been a nice surprise at Punt Return. I think he's a keeper for 2013. He's also shown some very interesting performance as an extra receiver. Josh Folck of the Lehigh Valley Express-Times wrote a nice piece on the changing nature of the art of returning punts today. Here's the essence of that article: "I wouldn't call myself a punt returning expert or anything. But years of playing and watching football taught me one rather simple rule about returning punts: Don't catch the ball inside the 10-yard line." "That's one thing you always hear special teams coaches telling their punt returners, no matter the level. If there is a punt heading into your territory, keep your feet on the 10-yard line and don't back up. You don't want to put your team in a bad spot by calling a fair catch or attempting to field the ball inside the 10." "Or at least that's what I thought the rule was. The more and more you watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, the rule isn't as evident anymore. Punt returners venture inside their own 10-yard line more than ever." "The worst example I can remember happened during the Philadelphia Eagles' Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati's punt returner Brandon Tate actually backed all the way up to his own goal line to field a punt. Tate's decision didn't work out too well as you might expect. He was brought down inside the team's 10-yard line." "I'm not exactly sure of the reason for punt returners breaking the long-standing rule, but my guess would be that it has a lot to do with players' egos. Many punt returners probably believe they can go all the way on every return, even if the end zone is 90 or 100 yards away. And yes, it's possible but not very likely. The smart move would be to fair catch the ball at the 10 or let it go over your head for a touchback. " "Many returners are probably thinking about making SportsCenter's Top 10 plays and not necessarily what's best for their team. Unfortunately, as many other things in today's sports world show, individual success is often put ahead of team success." "Well, keeping your feet planted on the 10-yard line might not be flashy for punt returners across the country. But for the best interest of football coaches and fans everywhere, I think that 'rule' should make a comeback." Thanks for that topic, Josh.  I'm not sure if SpotsCenter can really be blamed for most of those questionable punt receptions inside the 10. I'm more likely to question the player's fundamental knowledge of the game. After all, in youth football or high school or even college ball, that player may have been encouraged to return everything he could get his hands on. He probably almost always made a big play out of it. Then he gets to the pro's, where the "rule" inside the 10 is probably taken for granted as understood by most coaches. Heat of the game, instincts take over, he maybe forgets the strategic formula, or maybe he "sees" something big opening up, a lane that looks wide open... Or he is a gambler by nature like Ed Reed of the Ravens. I have seen Reed "pretend" to disdain a punt, then suddenly swoop in and pick it up before the punting team has downed the ball. Crazy stuff, but within the legal rules of football... One thing seems clear: if you're a special teams coach and you DON'T want your returners catching or fielding a punt inside the 10, you had better make it crystal clear to the player long before he is back there to take a return. You can't assume anything about a player's fundamental knowledge of the game anymore. One reason for that is elite athletes have always played a somewhat different game than you and I.  

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