Zech McPhearson is the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson is the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 1, according to an official league announcement.

McPhearson is being recognized for successfully recovering a surprise onside kick by the Lions. He had the discipline to watch the kickoff as opposed to merely assuming Detroit was booting it deep. McPhearson then made a clean catch with the kickoff coverage unit bearing down on him.

Though it may have looked like a routine recovery, it was a pretty important play that contributed to the Eagles’ win. McPhearson’s grab allowed the Eagles start at the Lions’ 49-yard line for a touchdown drive that put the Birds up 38 to 21. That touchdown was Philly’s last score of the game as they held on to win by just three points.

McPhearson did not have the best offseason. The second-year corner went from being the favorite to start across from Darius Slay to being relegated to a backup role following the James Bradberry signing. He then struggled in training camp practices.

It would be somewhat understandable (not though exactly forgivable) if McPhearson wasn’t fully invested on special teams due to frustration and/or a lack of confidence. That certainly wasn’t the case in Week 1, though. In addition to his big recovery, McPhearson made two special teams tackles. One of those takedowns was a nice hit on Lions punt returner Kalif Raymond, who is no slouch in that role.

McPhearson’s future as a defender is uncertain. But he can boost his stock by continuing to shine on special teams.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and special teams coordinator Michael Clay both praised McPhearson earlier this week.

Q. I think one of the overlooked parts of yesterday’s game, at least from me, I don’t know about others on this call is the onside kick recovery by CB Zech McPhearson. Didn’t seem to catch you guys off guard and gave you the short field and you were able to cash into a touchdown. What was that play? How did your special teams line up in that situation? You’re not really expecting it at that point. How big a play was that in your opinion?

NICK SIRIANNI: Yeah, good question. That was a huge play. And to me, I know that doesn’t count as a turnover but it kind of should be a little bit in my mind, right. And by where we get the football and how we get it, that momentum, like hey, you just tried to get us and we got you, you know what I mean, that’s a great feeling. First of all, I have to give a ton of credit to [Special Teams Coordinator] Coach [Michael] Clay and [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Coach [Joe] Pannunzio and [Special Teams Quality Control] Coach Tyler Brown in the sense of, man, they prepared those guys for that. They knew that was in the repertoire and prepared them for it, and we practiced that. Zech did that in a practice.

That’s so cool as a coach. Man, that’s so cool when that happens as a coach where you prep them and then they come out and they execute it. That’s like, we can’t score touchdowns anymore; we can’t get on-side kicks anymore; We can’t get a strip sack fumble anymore. But that’s such a cool thing when we can help them accomplish everything they want to accomplish and what we want to accomplish as a team.

Then Zech just being disciplined in the sense of what he’s taught there, and he’s taught a very specific fundamental there while the ball is getting kicked. Zech stayed true to his rules and he executed a huge play in that game. It wasn’t just Zech. The ball happened to go to Zech and Zech caught it. Our whole line and the whole of everybody in the front was doing that.

So, hey, we talk about this all the time and this is why we walk through so much. We have so much walk through. It’s like, hey, this game — yeah, we are expecting this, or we are expecting that. But what do you do when it’s not that? And so, what you have to do is play your rules in everything. Like it doesn’t matter if it’s offense, defense or special teams, you play your rules and when you play your rules, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to be successful against all the unknowns, but it at least gives you a chance to be.

That’s what Zech did and that’s what our special teams coaches did and our whole special teams unit I thought special teams played really good yesterday and that was a huge, huge play in that game. I mean, it just made me think, hey, what was last year’s big special teams play? It was a Carolina block punt, right, and then boom, there was a big punt return last year and then boom, this one and it’s great to see all phases contributing to winning the football game.

Q. CB Zech McPhearson had the big onside recovery, is that something you alerted in that situation, or is that just something that you’re always looking for, particularly with this Lions team that had their fair share of onsides tries like a year ago ?

MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, it’s always great when you have a full off-season going against an opponent that you know can pull out some trickery here and there. I could tell the guys until I’m blue in the face, watch out for the onside kick, but kudos to Zech to stay disciplined, stay in there at that time of the game not to panic. He stayed patient right there.

It was actually pretty cool listening to the guys talk about it. They noticed — and we always talk about we have rules on our kickoff return team, always see the ball kicked. But for him to stay in there and kind of alert — there was a different pace by the kicker in terms of that. Then you can see also [LB] Patrick Johnson, who plays our rover, was darting there because he saw it, also. So, it’s kudos to them just being so locked into that opportunity right there.

You never know in the NFL, everyone is trying to win, so they have to be locked in right there.

We had gone over it and we’ve worked on it in practice. The cool thing about it is what we worked on in practice, it happened in the game. Kind of makes you feel good as a coach that you had these guys prepared.

But it’s good for them to stay disciplined from the rules day one and help the team in any way we possibly can.

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