Chris Pantale could make the Eagles as a fullback
The unlikeliest Eagle to work with the first-team offense this spring was Chris Pantale, a journeyman tight end who spent workouts and minicamp as the team's top fullback.
If you're looking for an under-the-radar player to make the Eagles' 53-man roster, the 26-year-old Boston College product would fit the bill. The Eagles don't have a fullback on the roster, and coach Doug Pederson expressed interest in keeping a tight end that could fill the role and also contribute on special teams.
Zach Ertz and Brent Celek are the top two tight ends, with Trey Burton also likely to contribute to offense and special teams. But the Eagles invested time evaluating Pantale at fullback this spring, and the evaluation will continue when training camp begins.
"I have done it in the past," Pantale said. "I did it in college – I lined up in the backfield. And even with the Jets sometimes. Like in the fourth preseason game, they took the fullback out of the game and put me in there. So I have done it in the past."
Pederson called Pantale a "pleasant surprise this offseason," impressing the coach in the "dual role" of tight end and fullback. At 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, Pantale has the frame more often seen in a tight end than a fullback. But considering the way the NFL is evolving, that is acceptable to Pederson.
"If you stereotype a fullback, they are usually those short-neck guys that slam up in there and block linebackers," Pederson said. "But you know, I have to look at it from, how much are we going to use that position? [What's] the value of that position, and if you've got four tight ends active on game day, that's pretty good, because one of them can be a fullback, play special teams [and] all of that comes into play.
"But I'm not concerned with the size of him. Again, it goes back to once we get the pads on, I just want to see the physical nature of where he's at."
That's the one caveat of the spring work – the players did not wear pads, and fullback is a position that cannot be properly evaluated until there's hitting. The coaches have seen Pantale catch the ball coming out of the backfield, line up properly, and position his blocks. But the true test will be when he needs to take on an incoming linebacker.
"Right now is just knowing where to line up, alignment, responsibility, stuff like that," Pantale said. "Right now you need to fit guys up. During training camp, they want to see, he can run around but can he actually make the play and be a football player, be aggressive and block and stuff like that."
Pantale was on the New York Jets' active roster for parts of 2013 and 2014. He played five games with the Jets in 2014, but he didn't record any statistics. He spent the 2015 offseason with the Chicago Bears, although his offseason was hindered by viral meningitis. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad last September, when he joined a team with strong Boston College connections. But he was not himself last year even while practicing with the team.
"It took me awhile to get fully healthy," Pantale said. "When I came here in Week 3, I still hadn't worked out in two months. It really messed up everything – my speech, my coordination, my balance."
Even after Chip Kelly was fired, the Eagles signed Pantale to a futures contact to spend the offseason with the team. He viewed it as an opportunity to impress the new coaching staff, and it helped that the Eagles have an offense that uses a fullback but doesn't employ a natural fullback. That increases the chances the Eagles keep a fourth tight end – and Pantale is one of the four on the roster.
"I'm not sure if this offense is going to expand from here on out – I'm sure we have more plays to install – but I'm willing to do it," Pantale said. "Honestly, I'm willing to do whatever to make the team."