If you have examined the Eagles’ 53-man roster, then you no doubt have noticed that they’re only carrying two tight ends – Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
While it’s not exactly a man-bites-dog story, the fact is, you don’t see it a lot. Just two other NFC teams besides the Eagles are heading into Week 1 with just two tight ends on their roster: the Arizona Cardinals and their wacky “air raid’’ offense, and the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s the first time in Doug Pederson’s four years as head coach that the Eagles are going with two tight ends. They carried three in each of his first three seasons.
It should be pointed out that the Eagles do have a couple of other tight ends on call. Josh Perkins, who was their third tight end behind Ertz and Goedert for the first nine games last season, and Alex Ellis. Both were signed to the team’s practice squad.
But if all goes the way Pederson hopes, Perkins and Ellis will spend the entire season on the practice squad.
“Getting a third tight end in a football game is hard, unless you’re in a short-yardage or goal-line situation,’’ Pederson said Monday when asked about why the Eagles are choosing to go with two tight ends. “We feel like we’re going to be spending most of our time in ‘11’ (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) and ‘12’ (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) personnel.’’
Last year, the Eagles were very successful using three-tight end sets. They used “13’’ personnel (1RB, 3TE, 1WR) on 91 of 1,037 offensive snaps (8.8 percent). Quarterback Carson Wentz completed 21 of 28 passes for 226 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions out of 13. Ertz, whose 110 receptions last season were the most ever by an NFL tight end, had 10 catches for 122 yards in 13.
So, why change? Two reasons: offensive tackle Andre Dillard and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
The Eagles want to get the two rookies on the field as much as possible this season, and carrying only two tight ends will help them accomplish that.
Dillard, the team’s first-round pick who will back up 37-year-old Hall of Fame-bound left tackle Jason Peters, is expected to be used as an extra blocker/third tight end in short-yardage and goal line situations, much like Isaac Seumalo was two years ago.
Arcega-Whiteside, one of the Eagles’ two second-round picks along with running back Miles Sanders, enters the season as the team’s No. 4 wideout behind Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and DeSean Jackson.
At 6-2 and 225 pounds, he’s just one inch shorter and two pounds heavier than Perkins, a former wide receiver. Pederson is expected to use Arcega-Whiteside, a physical receiver with exceptional contested-catch ability, in some two-tight end sets with Ertz and Goedert.
“Obviously, the third tight end [in short-yardage situations] could be Andre,’’ Pederson said. “We look at our personnel on offense. We have our three starters (at wide receiver), and J.J. sitting there, and then you factor in the two tight ends.’’
Basically, Pederson is playing to his strengths. If you have a wealth of talent like the Eagles do on offense, you want to get as much of it on the field as you can.
“Bottom line is they’re trying to put the best guys and the best roster together,’’ Jason Kelce, the Eagles’ All-Pro center, said. “That [going with two tight ends] was what the front office and the coaches felt was best.’’
Dillard had an outstanding training camp and preseason. He answered any questions about whether he was NFL-ready. Kelce loves the idea of using the rookie as a third tight end in short-yardage and goal line situations.
“This is the modern day NFL,’’ he said. “We use tight ends as fullbacks. We use running backs as receivers. We use offensive linemen as tight ends.
“Usually, you’re just trying to find a way to get advantageous personnel matchups. That’s why it’s less about potentially numbers at positions and more about what are the best guys we can keep to get those mismatches.’’
Right tackle Lane Johnson thinks using Dillard as a third tight end is going to provide a big boost to the Eagles’ ground game.
“The tight end block is often the most important block on run plays,’’ he said. “Having him there is going to help us.’’
Arcega-Whiteside, like Dillard, had an exceptional summer and has convinced Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh that they need to get him on the field.
“I’m excited to see what they’ll have for me and what we’re going to be able to accomplish this season,’’ the rookie said.