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This is the ladder you take to reach the level Brent Celek has reached: Get drafted, out-work everyone out there, take advantage of an opportunity to play and never look back. This is Brent Celek, the latest in a long line of young, ascending players the Eagles have made part of their present, and their future. The team announced on Tuesday that Celek signed a contract extension through 2016, keeping in place another piece of an expanding core of superb, young talent.
In his first year as a starting tight end in the NFL, Celek is having all kinds of success. He has 54 catches, 601 yards and 5 touchdowns. Celek is a tough, hard-working blocker. Given his athletic ability and his work ethic and his hunger to be better every day, Celek's ceiling is way, way up there. He is a vital cog here now, and as the Eagles have so often demonstrated in the past and so far this season -- Winston Justice signed an extension last week -- he is someone to build around as the team moves forward.
It is absolutely no surprise that Celek and the Eagles got a deal done. Is there a more perfect player to man the tight end position in blue-collar Philadelphia than a kid who has advanced as arduously as Celek? He is the fastest tight end the Eagles have ever had. He isn't the most athletically-gifted player who has ever graced the position.
But Celek combines so many valuable traits that he may, yeah, I'm going to say it, one day be the best tight end the Eagles have had here in many, many seasons. He is a big, strong player with great hands. He runs like a souped-up truck with the ball in his hands. Celek has a super-high football IQ and the desire to be great.
Celek's development has been one of the many pleasant in-season surprises on this 7-4 football team. A fifth-round draft pick in 2007, Celek played sparingly that season and then opened 2008 as the backup to L.J. Smith before Smith's injury problems and, ultimately, his lack of productivity, dropped him to second string.
Meanwhile, Celek was rocketing up the depth chart because he spent every day at the NovaCare Complex running routes, watching film, working out. The coaches noticed, and under the tutelage of tight ends coach Tom Melvin, Celek began to blossom.
A November 2, 2008 game in Seattle marked Celek's real emergence. He caught 6 passes for 131 yards that day in an Eagles win, and even though Smith returned to the lineup in the season, it was only a matter of time before Celek claimed the role for good.
He started three of the final four games of the regular season and then started in all three playoff games. Celek's 10 catches, 83 yards and 2 touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game made it official: The job was his.
"He is such a hard-working player with a great attention to detail," said head coach Andy Reid of Celek. "He was that way from the very first day he got here. We all saw that from the start with Brent."
Said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg of Celek: "We all saw it almost right away. He is a player who performs at a high level on a consistent basis. He is good at the line and in the passing game. He is dependable and you can count on him on every play to get to the right spot and do the right thing. This whole staff saw that very early."
Signing Celek continues a philosophy of locking up young players for the long term, something that has generally served the Eagles well. With the signing of Celek and Justice, the Eagles have now inked 22 players on the current roster (including players on Injured Reserve) to multiple contracts. The 24-year-old Celek is among a core group of players currently manning the skill positions on offense, joining 22-year-old wide receiver DeSean Jackson and a pair of 21-year-old rookies in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy.
In fact, the average age of the current roster is 26.6 years old, while 76 percent of that roster is signed through 2010 and beyond, including 22 players who are signed through 2012 and beyond.
It's a great position to be in now and for the years to come. Celek is a key piece. He has a thumb injury and a lot of time to spend in the athletic trainer's room this week, but he is using to putting in the time. He has done it from Day 1 as an Eagle, and it is a prime reason he is where he is now: One of the game's best tight ends armed with a long-term contract and years of great play in front of him.