Young Eagle really making a name for himself on special teams

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Long before Zech McPhearson took a dive across the goal line at the Linc to pull off one of the Eagles’ most impressive plays in their 35-13 win over the Steelers, he took another dive.

Into the world of special teams.

As a fourth-round pick last year, McPhearson understands his role as a member of the undefeated Eagles; he’s embracing it. And he’s making a name for himself as a special teamer.

“It takes an understanding from every player on special teams that you got a role,” McPhearson said this week. “There’s no point in being out there if you’re not going to dominate your role to the fullest. Everybody wants to play defense or offense, but I know my role on this team.

“I know my role is to be ready when my name is called on defense and then on special teams dominate. While I’m out there, I’m going to try to make a name for myself and fun while doing it. Turn up with the guys.”

Sunday’s play came late in the third quarter. McPhearson was a gunner and watched a beautiful punt from Arryn Siposs flutter through the air and bounce deep inside Steelers territory.

McPhearson, 24, actually didn’t love his release (he felt it could have been more of an inside release) but he flew to the ball, understood his positioning on the field, and leapt across the goal line with his right foot, swatting the ball back into play.

“It’s not like I look down on the field and saw it,” McPhearson said. “I just knew my feel on the field and knew I was getting close to the end zone.”

The Eagles special teams coaches work with their gunners on these exact types of plays every Thursday after practice. It paid off on Sunday.

They pinned the Steelers down at the 1.

This isn’t the first big play McPhearson has made on special teams this season. In the season opener, he easily handled an onside kick from the Lions in a crucial moment and was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

McPhearson is third on the team with 136 special teams snaps, behind just Shaun Bradley and K’Von Wallace and he’s second on the team in special teams tackles with six, just one behind Kyron Johnson.

At times, McPhearson has needed to get on the field on defense this season. He’s the Eagles’ top backup outside cornerback behind Darius Slay and James Bradberry. And when he’s seen action on defense this season, he’s held his own.

But as long as there aren’t any injuries, McPhearson’s job is going to be on special teams. He’s more than OK with that. He’s embraced it.

“A lot of people don’t understand,” he said. “Some of my teammates in college didn’t realize that when you get here, special teams is what keeps you around. If you’re not a first-rounder, special teams is what’s going to keep your spot on this team.

“That’s what kind of flipped it for me is that understanding special teams is one of the most important part of the team, it’s what’s going to keep you around the league for a long time.”

McPhearson remembers his early days before he transferred to Texas Tech and was still at Penn State when a couple of former Nittany Lions would come back and give advice and they would always emphasize the importance of playing special teams at the next level.

The two guys in particular McPhearson remembers giving that advice were Grant Haley, who went undrafted in 2018, and Adrian Amos, who was a fifth-round pick in 2015. Both Haley and Amos have gone on to have long NFL careers. Haley is in his fifth NFL season and Amos is in his eighth.

“They were like ‘special teams, special teams.’ Everybody was saying the same thing,” McPhearson said. “I was like what’s so good about special teams? I was young at the time, but I get here and I see why.”

And everyone else can see he’s embraced it.

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