Return specialist Britain Covey’s first priority when he joined the Eagles wasn’t to show off his explosiveness or try to break off some electrifying returns.
He kept things simple.
Catch the ball. And worry about the rest later.
“That’s kind of what it was in college,” Covey said. “The first thing I told coach (Kyle) Whittingham (at Utah) was, ‘I'm gonna catch every punt and have you able to trust me mentally. I'll catch every punt and do the basics, make every right decision, fair catch when I need to.’
“And that was the first step. I think building that trust before showing off your skills and your abilities is important. And so for me, that's kind of the mindset that I came in here with. Same thing as a receiver.
“It's, ‘You can plug me into any position and I'll know what to do. You'll trust me to know what to do. I'll show you my skills. But first and foremost, you know that I'm going to be on the right page.’”
After last year? That’s a huge upgrade.
Every punt return last year was an adventure. Just the ability to make the right decision — whether to let it bounce, call a fair catch or go for a return — makes Covey valuable.
The Eagles on Saturday elevated Covey from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, and the expectation is that the undrafted rookie will handle kick and punt returns Sunday when the Eagles open the regular season against the Lions in Detroit.
The Eagles also elevated Noah Togiai, the 3rd-year tight end who began his career with the Eagles in 2020 before spending the season with Nick Sirianni in Indianapolis and then returning to the Eagles last year.
As for Covey, he becomes the first undrafted rookie assigned to punt return duties for the Eagles since Demaris Johnson in 2012 and the first to handle punt and kick returns since Willingboro’s Marvin Hargrove in 1990.
It’s a lot to ask of an undrafted rookie, but Covey isn’t your average rookie.
Thanks to his two-year Church of the Latter Day Saints mission to Chile, he’s an older rookie — he turned 25 in March — and he’s got the confidence of a five-year veteran.
“I do a lot of visualization to put myself in that mindset, so I'm not gonna be wide-eyed, that's never the type of person I've been,” he said. “And I hope that my teammates trust me enough, that's kind of what I've been working on.”
The Eagles haven’t had a top-10 punt returner since Darren Sproles finished 3rd in the league in 2016, and they haven’t had a top-10 kick returner since Chris Polk finished 4th in 2014.
Covey got four punt returns and four kick returns in the preseason games, averaging 6.3 yards on punts and 23.0 on kicks. A lot of that work was behind return units filled with bottom-of-the-roster guys who didn’t make the team.
On Sunday in Detroit, he’ll make his NFL debut for a team with deep postseason aspirations on the road in a loud and jam-packed dome.
He can’t wait.
“I live for that moment,” Covey said. “I'm excited for that moment, and preseason games were interesting and unique, but you don't always get a chance to show everything that you can do.
“But I feel like my body of work throughout camp has given my teammates and my coaches the ability to trust me. So I'm excited for that moment.”
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