Nobody is going to come right out and say so, but the Eagles are very interested in what rookie tight end Brent Celek does in the remaining two games, as they look to 2008 with L.J. Smith poised to become a free agent.
Celek is scheduled to start Sunday in New Orleans. Smith is sidelined with a knee injury and veteran backup Matt Schobel sustained a concussion in the first series last week at Dallas. Celek played the remainder of that game and caught three passes for 50 yards, including a clutch 29-yard gain on third down that allowed the Eagles to run out the clock.
Celek led Eagles receivers in the preseason, but his regular-season role has been less than what his training-camp performance might have indicated, especially the past few months, after Smith's persistent groin problem got better. Smith suffered a knee injury in the Dec. 9 loss to the New York Giants.
"Brent's the starter, Brent's the man right now, and he was last week, as well," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "Right when Matt went down, he became the man, right at that point - and that was real early in the game. He's done a nice job. He makes very few mistakes, plays at a pretty high level, and he does that on a consistent basis. He's been impressive, especially this being his first year."
Celek, a fifth-round pick from Cincinnati, has 11 catches for 125 yards. He has played in every game, but he caught only two passes in a six-game stretch from Nov. 4 through the Giants game. If the Eagles are going to move forward without Smith, it's hard to see how they could have seen enough of Celek so far to make them confident he can start in 2008.
"I'm excited, but I still have a job to do," Celek said yesterday, when asked about getting his first start. "I'm not really looking to next year right now. I want to finish up this year. We'll think about next year when the season's over.
"I think I'm getting better every week. I still have a lot of things to work on, these next 2 weeks and in the offseason, but I think I'm progressing positively."
Mornhinweg said the coaches have been very pleased.
"We certainly thought he would develop into a fine football player," Mornhinweg said. "His development has been at a real fast pace. We saw that he was real sharp and smart and had a chance to help us early . . . A lot of things happen at that spot, and they happen fast."
The Eagles officially promoted practice-squad wideout Michael Gasperson to the roster. Andy Reid has said Gasperson (6-4, 220) will get a look at tight end.
Not practicing yesterday were right guard
(knee), running back
(illness), tight end
(concussion), tight end
(knee) and running back