The tight end position is one that many of us Eagles fans look to and expect big things from year to year. It’s just ingrained in our brains that we expect to see something special from those players year-in and year-out. It’s because the position has a rich history of players who made a difference on Eagles’ teams over the past few decades.
Of course, we’re continuing to ask ourselves if this is the year Zach Ertz “breaks out” and becomes a true difference-maker. His mentor, Brent Celek, has proven his worth as one of the best Eagles tight ends of all-time. Sure, he’s on the tail end of his career. However, going into his 10th season Celek has amassed 30 TDs and 4,713 total career yards. Not too many tight ends can boast they’ve played in every game but one (in 2012) during a nine year career. Celek was given a contract extension this offseason, which means the Eagles and Howie Roseman continue to value his productivity and how he can fit into the offensive scheme. With his new three-year, $13 million contract extension, Celek will likely retire an Eagle and go down as one of the finest to wear midnight green.
Before Celek’s time in the spotlight at the position, there was Chad Lewis. Lewis wasn’t by any stretch a “gold standard” tight end like Shannon Sharpe or Tony Gonzalez, but he played in an Eagles uniform for nine years. During that time, he brought an energy and devotion to his teammates and the game every time he stepped on the field. That’s why he’s one of my top-5 Eagles tight ends of all-time. Not to mention, his athletic ability allowed him to make some pretty special catches during his career that helped propel the team to victory on more than a few occasions.
Those of us who remember Keith Jackson and Keith Byars know and understood what they brought to the Eagles teams they played on. Byars was one of the Eagles most versatile players in the history of the franchise. He played tight end, was in the backfield at times and even passed the ball on some trick plays. 31 total touchdowns were made because of his multipurpose productivity.
Now, the Eagles offensive coaching staff believes they’re in the driver’s seat at the tight end position. A veteran (Celek), technician (Ertz) and under-the-radar player have the “high expectation mark” on their backs. One of the most interesting players we’ve seen offensively during training camp has been third-year player Trey Burton, a guy many think will now be a key component to offensive productivity. His first two years as an Eagle was for the most part as a special teams player since he only has three career catches. However, according to reports, he’s been a tough cover throughout training camp and the Eagles offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, wants to use more tight ends in various packages.
In fact, Reich has enthusiastically discussed three-tight end sets as one way to use Burton’s versatility. Using him in motion, out of the backfield, or even split wide will potentially create mismatches and the ability to make plays. It doesn’t seem like he’ll simply be a special teams guy anymore.
Injuries haven’t been an issue for Celek throughout his career – and let’s hope this remains consistent heading into this season. He remembers, quite well, the Andy Reid era and this current offensive program is very familiar to him.
The real wild card, in my opinion, is Ertz. We’ve seen flashes, but there’s nothing concrete about whether or not he’ll be a difference-maker. While I believe it can happen since Ertz will likely be one of the biggest contributors on offense, he needs to stay healthy and run disciplined routes. Last year, he caught 75 passes for 854 yards and only two touchdowns. Yes, he had an early season injury. Yes, he didn’t come on strong until the latter part of the season because of it. Chip Kelly’s regime certainly didn’t use him effectively in the red zone. It’s our expectations that Ertz’s receiving yards and touchdowns will see a jump this season. However, we’ve been saying that for the past couple seasons.
Coaching staffs are always high on each and every player during camp. Only an outright release of a player shows that coaches don’t believe in someone. Reich and Co. have been praising the Eagles tight ends. It’s one of the reasons why the expectation level is extremely high as we head into the 2016 season.