Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2014 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Friday, July 25th. The entire Eagles training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here.
As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. Today we look at the tight end position. [QB] [RB] [WR]
Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Emil Igwenagu, Trey Burton, Blake Annen
It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles use their tight ends this year. Last year it looked like they might use two (or even three) tight end sets often but that didn't happen. The Eagles relied heavily on 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) instead.
Before I get started on Brent Celek, let's take a moment to appreciate his toughness. Take a look at the following GIFs. [Leaping over Ed Reed] - [Making a catching and dragging multiple defenders down field] - [Getting hit hard and then jumping up to celebrate the first down]. Celek's receiving yard total dropped in 2013 but he experienced a career high in yards per reception (15.7). His 6 touchdowns were the second highest during a single season in his seven year career. He was also critical as a blocker. Celek will likely assume the same role in 2014 but his snaps may decrease a little. He played 76.5% of the offensive snaps in 2013.
The reason for Celek's decrease in snaps would be attributed to the emergence of second year tight end Zach Ertz. Ertz had a really good rookie season as far as tight ends go. Ertz's 13 yards per reception were tied for the highest mark by a rookie tight end since New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski put up the same number in 2010. Ertz isn't the blocker Celek is so it's hard to see him completely taking over, but there's reason to believe he'll have an increased role. Ertz only played 40.8% of the offensive snaps in 2013.
James Casey is arguably the Eagles best special teams player. He led the team in special teams tackles. Despite lacking a featured offensive role for most of the season, Casey saw the bulk of his snaps take place in the final two weeks of the regular season, mostly as an extra blocker. Was that a sign of things to come for 2014?
Emil Igwenagu is still around after surprisingly making the original 53 man roster last season. I didn't think Iggy looked too good in training camp at all but apparently the Eagles valued his blocking. Iggy spent several weeks on the roster but inactive on game day. He was later cut and added to the practice squad. The converted fullback has his work cut out for him this year.
Undrafted rookie free agent Trey Burton is an intriguing player. He's not quite a "pure" tight end at 6-3, 235. He looks more like a TE/WR hybrid player. Burton was very active in the Eagles spring practices. He made a lot of catches and generally looked impressive. He'll be a player to keep an eye on this summer.
Fellow undrafted free agent Blake Annen is also intriguing from a physical standpoint. He's 6-4, 247 and reportedly ran a 4.41 40 yard dash at his pro day. To put this in perspective, the best 40 time for a TE at the NFL combine this year was 4.50. Annen dropped a number of catches during the spring practice so he's clearly a long shot.
How will it play out?
Celek and Ertz will take the bulk of the snaps on offense. Celek will still take more than Ertz due to his superior blocking ability. Let's not forget that the Eagles are a run-heavy team. The Eagles also could opt to keep Celek in to block in order to help out Allen Barbre while filling in for the reportedly suspended Lane Johnson. Casey will likely contribute on special teams and in a limited offensive role.
It's not guaranteed the Eagles will keep four tight ends but it's certainly possible. Burton could edge out Iggy in that regard. Annen is more likely suited for the practice squad as a developmental project.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Some have wondered aloud if James Casey will be cut because he's due a large salary (nearly $4 million) relative to his small offensive role. Once again, don't sell short Casey's special teams ability. While that might not excite you, it's something that Chip Kelly appreciates. Considering the fact the Eagles rely on two tight ends, it's also important that the third string TE is someone who is capable of contributing. Casey is probably overpriced, but he's far from worthless.