Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2016 is almost here. Coaches and players report as soon as Monday, July 25. The 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. We continue today by taking a look at the tight end position.
Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale, M.J. MacFarland
The year is 2016 and Zach Ertz is finally ready to have a breakout year for the Eagles. No, for real this time! Jokes aside, there's ample to be excited about the 25-year-old tight end. After entering the 2015 season with an apparent groin injury that slowed him down, Ertz finished very strong down the stretch. He became a favorite target for quarterback Sam Bradford. In the final four games, Ertz was targeted 48 times for 35 receptions, 450 yards (12.9), and one touchdown. He became one of only two tight ends to have 450+ yards in only four games since 2013, the other being Jimmy Graham.
It's worth noting that some of that production by Ertz came in garbage time. He has to prove he can be more consistent. Still, he clearly has potential, and the arrival of Doug Pederson as head coach should only help him. Pederson has experience working with an offense in Kansas City that fed the ball to young stud Travis Kelce. The Eagles lack a ton of great options when it comes to their passing attack. Ertz is one of the best receiving threats on the team and the Ealges need to find a way to feed him the ball over and over.
Ertz's increase in playing time coincided with a decrease for Brent Celek. The 31-year-old veteran played only 52% of the offensive snaps in 2015, which was a decrease from 69.3% in 2014 and 76.5% in 2013. The Eagles may opt to go heavy on multiple tight end sets moving forward, which would help Celek get back on the field more. Celek has largely been used as a blocking tight end in recent years. According to PFF, he struggled in that area last season. Celek was sneakily productive as a pass catcher last year. He averaged 14.7 yards per reception and had zero drops. The Eagles won't be looking to use Celek as a primary target but it's good for them to know he can still contribute to some extent.
Trey Burton is the man of intrigue. With the Chiefs having used three tight end sets in the past, Burton could finally be in line for some playing time on offense. That's good news. Burton has shown flashes in limited touches. He's not a star or anything but he's capable of making something good happen. There was talk of the Eagles using Burton in a fullback role but that wasn't taking place during spring practices. Instead, they often had him lined out wide like a receiver. It'll be interesting to see how much this special teams ace can contribute on offense.
Chris Pantale is one of the players who really stood out this spring. He made some nice catches down the field while lining up as a tight end. He also got a lot of snaps as the team's first string fullback. If Pantale can have a strong summer, he might force the Eagles to keep four tight ends.
M.J. MacFarland signed with the Eagles this spring after getting a tryout invite for rookie minicamp. He's a long shot.
How will it play out?
Due to the Eagles' lack of talent at receiver and elsewhere on the offense, I suspect the tight ends will get a lot of playing time. Ertz will lead the way. Given his relationship with Bradford, I expect him to be targeted early and often throughout the season. I imagine Celek will continue to mostly contribute as a blocker while Burton gets a few snaps here and there as a change of pace. Pantale, if he makes the team, will get some looks as a lead blocker.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Ertz, Celek, and Burton are locks to make the roster. Pantale is on the bubble. He can convince the Eagles to keep him if he contributes on special teams and shows some capability of playing fullback.