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Eagles sticking with Johnson as punt returner

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By Eric Edholm

There was some talk this week that DeSean Jackson could return to punt-returning duties in light of rookie Damaris Johnson’s struggles in that role. But head coach Andy Reid and special-teams coach Bobby April both say they believe in Johnson.

He made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Tulsa with some eye-opening plays in the preseason, including a 70-yard TD catch and run against the Steelers. Johnson also stepped up as a receiver against the Cardinals when Jeremy Maclin was out, catching five passes for 84 yards.

But his struggles as a punt returner to this point have been problematic. He’s averaging only 5.3 yards on six returns with seven fair catches and appears to lack confidence at this point.

Still, April is in his corner for now.

“We think Damaris is good,” April said. “He’s made a couple mistakes, but we’ve already paid for those so we paid our tuition, we got our education, and I think he’s going to be good. I think he’s going to be fine.

“Can we afford for him to continue making the same mistakes? Of course not.”

Ball security is one issue for Johnson. He fumbled against the Cardinals, despite not sustaining a jarring hit on the play. The Eagles have been prone to turnovers all season and can’t afford to keep giving the ball away, certainly not after the defense gets a stop and earns a rest.

Another concern is that Johnson was drifting back and fielding balls way too deep in his own zone — inside the 5-yard line, even. April also has worried about Johnson’s concentration, which has been good at times but shaky at others.

The coach still believes the return units have good potential because of Johnson’s quickness and open-field ability, saying that Jackson is not an option there “at this point.” April also said that the punt-return blocking has been “adequate” so far. “I don’t think it is necessarily good but I don’t think it’s terrible,” he said.

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