Maybe Covey is pretty good at returning punts after all


Britain Covey understands why people were starting to doubt him as the weeks went by and he still hadn't managed a punt return longer than 15 yards.

"I totally understand it," he said. "I know there were questions, but they weren't my own questions or my teammates' questions."

Eleven games into his rookie season, Covey had a modest 6.8 punt return average, which ranked 22nd out of 26 returners averaging at least one return per game. That was well under the league average of 9.1.

After a record-setting collegiate career, the longest return Covey had to show for his first 11 games was a 15-yarder in Arizona.

"I was frustrated but not because of the lack of productivity but because we just weren't getting that many opportunities," he said at his locker Thursday. 

"Since Week 5, we averaged less than one punt return per game. I guess that's what happens when your defense leads the league in turnovers. They don't punt that much. And that's great. But it does make it tough.

"When you're literally getting less than one return per week it can be tough to get a rhythm going, not just as a returner but as a unit."

Covey is right. During the six games from Dallas through Green Bay, he had just five returns along with five fair catches.

The opportunities just weren't there.

Then came the Titans.

Covey's first return went 11 yards, but early in the second quarter he fielded a long Ryan Stonehouse kick and scrambled a career-long 20 yards to give the Eagles possession at their own 43. 

For the first time since he got here, he heard cheers as he trotted off the field.

He added a 16-yarder later in the second quarter, then recorded another lifetime-best 27-yarder out to midfield early in the third quarter to set up Jalen Hurts' TD pass to A.J. Brown. Moments later, he added a 25-yarder.

The Eagles won 35-10, and Covey had not only recorded the three-longest punt returns of his life, he had increased his average from 6.8 to 9.4 -- now above the NFL average.

His 105 total punt return yards were the second-most in the NFL this year, four yards fewer than Marcus Jones of the Patriots had in a win over the Jets in November.

And Covey became the first Eagle in 17 years with three 20-yard returns in a game. On Dec. 5, 2005, Reno Mahe had returns of 21, 30 and 44 yards in a 42-0 loss to the Seahawks at the Linc. 

"It was huge for me, for the unit, for special teams in general," he said. "It was nice to get a few more opportunities with some space, and I think more than anything it proves what we're capable of as a unit.

"It's not like we went out there and played out of our heads. We just made that one extra block to spring it. Definitely confidence-building."

The Eagles have been searching for a capable punt returner since Darren Sproles was here, and Covey's college resume is incredible. He ranked second in the BCS in punt return average the last two years at 15.0 per pop -- behind Houston's Marcus Jones, oddly -- and his 29.6 kick return was sixth-highest in the BCS in 2020 and 2021. He had five return TDs in his collegiate career.

He was a coveted undrafted rookie, and the Eagles landed him with a $137,500 guarantee.

"I've always believed in myself, I've never doubted, and I show it to myself and my teammates day in and day out at practice," he said. "Sometimes it's difficult. Even this last game, if I only got one opportunity, I would have only gotten 11 yards, and I'm sure people would still be frustrated. 

"But this year has been a blast. I love being here. We're 11-1, we have a great team. Rookie year can be difficult and sometimes you don't feel like there's that much grace in terms of room to grow, so you've got to give it to yourself a little bit."

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