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Eagles will use three tight end sets on offense this year

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The Philadelphia Eagles are not loaded with offensive talent, especially when it comes to skill players. The Birds have major question marks at wide receiver and running back. The one and perhaps only area where the Eagles are strong is tight end. Therefore, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Eagles rely heavily upon that position this season.

"Absolutely," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich when asked if the Eagles will use three tight end sets in 2016. "You’re right – tight end is a strength of this roster; this offensive unit. If you look at [head coach] Doug’s [Pederson] system and what they did in Kansas City with their tight ends and how we’ll utilize them here, it’ll be very consistent with that, and we’ve got the players to do it. We can mix it up. They’re all real good, smart route runners – every one of them. So, we expect really good production from that unit."

Reich is correct to point out the success the Chiefs had with multiple tight ends in recent years. Their three tight end formation was actually one of Kansas City's most dangerous lineups. One of the reasons why it was so successful is because it can create mismatches.

"Our three-tight end personnel package is a really strong package for us, just because of the versatility of those players," Reich said. "They’re all very instinctive route runners; they can all block. So, it’s a different way to try to create a mismatch. Sometimes you can create a mismatch by getting a guy who’s bigger and stronger than a corner covering him. Those corners are used to covering small, fast guys. Now all of the sudden you get someone like Trey Burton or Zach Ertz who are big guys with big catching radiuses. Sometimes [defensive backs] struggle with that a little bit. Those guys know how to use their body and their catch radius to their advantage. So, we’ve got to find ways to continue to use that to our advantage."

The Eagles have already shown some three tight end looks in training camp practice so far. Whether it's a few tight ends bunched up on one edge of the offensive line or a combination of players split in-line and out wide, the Eagles have options.

"We feel like Zach [Ertz] has a great feel in route running," said Reich. "He just knows how to create leverage; he knows how to use his body; he has a big catch radius. Trey [Burton] is like a wide receiver out there, and you get him out there and he’s got the speed, he’s got natural instinctive moves for a tight end. The one that surprises me though has been Brent [Celek]. I came in here thinking, ‘Hey, Brent is our blocking tight end.’ But the guy knows how to run routes. He’s a really smart route runner, and I have a lot of confidence in him, and I know the quarterbacks do as well. So, that’s a really good thing for us."

After signing him to a long-term contract extension earlier this offseason, it's clear the Eagles have high hopes for Ertz. The 25-year-old is coming off a very strong finish to the 2015 season. Given Philadelphia's dearth of high quality receiving targets, he could become a feature player in the Eagles' offense similar to how Travis Kelce has starred in Kansas City.

Celek, 31, is thought to be the team's most "traditional" tight end. The veteran will often be used as a blocker. He's still a respectable receiving threat, though, averaging the second highest yards per reception of his career last season.

Lastly, but not necessarily least, the Eagles have Burton. The special teams standout has had a very strong camp. He's caught nearly everything thrown his way and he's made some very nice catches in the process. Burton might never be a full-time starter, but he at least deserves some touches in the offense.

For an Eagles offense that doesn't exactly hold a lot of intrigue, it will be interesting to see how Pederson deploys the tight ends this season. They could be the key to the team's offensive success.


Watch Reich's Saturday press conference in the video below via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page. Transcript below.

Q. Doug has given a lot of praise to WR Paul Turner. What have you seen out of him?

FRANK REICH: You know what? He has been as consistent as you can be at that position. I mean, he’s been impressive. He’s tough. You can just tell he’s a mentally and physically tough guy. He competes very hard; he’s an instinctive route runner; he has really good feet. As we coaches say, ‘He can put his foot on the ground and stop on a dime.’ So, he’s done a nice job.

Q. What have you seen from G Dillon Gordon? I know that he’s obviously changing positions.

FRANK REICH: Yeah, that’s a big switch. Here’s a guy that played tight end, but he’s got all the tools. He’s explosive for that position; athletic for the position. There’s a big learning curve, though. There’s a big learning curve, so it’s a slow process, but he’s showing all the right signs. He’s showing all the right signs of a guy who can develop into a legitimate offensive lineman in this league and making that transition. And then mentally he’s extremely sharp. You’ve got to be to play up front.

Q. A couple guys went down yesterday with minor injuries, at least that we know of, with hitting in practice. Zach Ertz came out and said that he was frustrated with some of the lower hits. What’s your philosophy on hitting during camp?

FRANK REICH: It doesn’t matter what my philosophy is. It matters what the head coach’s philosophy is. Now, I happen to align with the head coach, but that’s what we do. We follow our leader. Doug [Pederson] sets the tone. And that’s one thing about Doug – you can just tell the guy … He’s a tough man. He’s mentally and physically a tough guy. You just know that. He played a long time, he grinded it out, coaching, and that’s just the mentality he’s bringing. That’s what he’s used to. And so, we’re all in. We’re all in. And it’s a physical game. Players play this game because they want to hit. Yeah, do we have to protect ourselves, even when we go live; you have to be a little bit smart? Yeah. But you learn from it and you’re hopeful that you cross your fingers when you have those few live periods. You cross your fingers that nothing crazy happens, but it’s just part of the game.

Q. I know you guys wanted to see how TE Chris Pantale handled being a lead blocker in the fullback spot. Have you seen that from him yet? How is he doing in that role?

FRANK REICH: Yeah, he’s doing well. There are two things you look for when you take a tight end and put him in the backfield. The one thing you look for, first and foremost, is, is he nasty? Is he aggressive? Will he go after it? Because when you play that position, you’ve got to be physical; you’ve got to love contact. And he’s shown that. Secondly, for tight ends who are always playing on the line of scrimmage, it’s a different feel from the backfield – how to insert; how to find your [line] backer; having the instinct to see it. You almost have to see it like a tailback, because the tailback is following you most of the time. He’s really shown good vision in that. So, on both of those fronts, which are very key, he’s been doing very well.

Q. Now that RB Ryan Mathews is back, how much of a workload will you give him?

FRANK REICH: Having Ryan back, man, just today – I know it was only a 10/10/10 day – but I don’t know if you guys saw it too, but he just looks explosive out there. He looked explosive; he looked quick; he was seeing things. And I know it was a toned-down practice with no pads, but we’re still playing fast. He looks good. He’s an explosive, physical runner. So, we’ve got a good array of [running] backs. You want to mix it in and Ryan, certainly, is going to be prominent in that mix. You want to get a guy like that, with the track record he has and the way he’s run the ball over the last few years, we want to get him as many touches as we can.

Q. It seems like every practice Trey Burton is making a play. What are some of the positive things you’ve seen from him?

FRANK REICH: Trey really has [stood out]. He has made so many big plays out here. That’s what you look for. There are a lot of talented guys playing in the NFL, so you’re going to see flashes of great plays. But really, what you’re looking for as a coach, is the consistency of it. Anybody can do it one time. We could all go out there and somebody could throw us a ball and we could make a nice, one-handed catch and tell them, ‘Man, we feel like we can do it.’ But really what separates these guys out here, and really what we’re looking for, is guys who can make those kind of plays routinely. That’s what great players do. They make the hard things look easy. And really, that’s what we’re looking for. Not only from Trey – he’s certainly done that – but that’s what we, as an offense, need to do. We need to make the hard things look easy, and make it look routine. That only can happen by challenging yourself and by doing it on the practice field and having the mental toughness and tenacity to have that mentality – to go after it every play so that it becomes routine. That’s the whole goal.