Brent Celek thought he was living a dream in the desert.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end was sure the Eagles were on their way to Super Bowl XLIII, and he was going to be a major reason why.
"It was kind of hard to believe," Celek said yesterday after taking part in one of the Eagles' off-season workouts at the NovaCare Complex. "When I scored my second touchdown, I was like, 'Wow, this is really happening.' When we took the lead, it felt like a dream coming true. I thought, 'We're going to the Super Bowl.' "
The Eagles, of course, fell short of Super Bowl XLIII, and Celek said all those good feelings he had during the game "went by the wayside" afterward. Even now, he doesn't get much satisfaction when he thinks about his 10-catch performance for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' 32-25 NFC championship loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
"People tell me how I had a good game, and I thank them for it," Celek said. "When I think about it, yeah, I might have had a decent game, but all I really cared about was getting a win. It just brings back bad memories of the red-and-white confetti falling everywhere."
Some gain did come from Celek's pain.
By the time the Eagles' three-game playoff run had ended, any doubt that he could be the starting tight end of the team's future had been erased. The New York Giants were excited enough by Kevin Boss' five postseason catches two seasons ago that they traded away Pro Bowler Jeremy Shockey. The Eagles seem equally convinced that Celek is ready to be a No. 1 tight end after he came through with 19 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns during the team's playoff run.
Combined with his regular-season numbers, Celek had 46 catches for 469 yards.
"He can be a No. 1 tight end in this league and for us," Eagles coach Andy Reid declared at the NFL owners meetings a couple weeks ago. "I have no problem with that. I expect him to get better in the blocking area, but he's not far off there, and he's very willing."
Celek, in fact, is more than willing to work for a job he earned even before L.J. Smith walked through the NovaCare Complex doors for the final time.
"Any time you have a chance to get on the field and play more, that's exciting," Celek said. "That's what this game is all about. I'm working harder than ever to earn that spot. There's never going to be a 'What if?' for me. I'm giving it all I've got."
With the Eagles' first minicamp scheduled to begin in less than a month, Celek is working to improve his blocking, a part of the game that is challenging for all tight ends because they're typically taking on defensive linemen who are bigger than them and linebackers who are quicker.
"I'm trying to get stronger," Celek said. "That's something I need to work on right now. Having surgery last year hindered me in that respect, so I'm working on my strength and my blocking technique. There are things I can improve on in the passing game, too. I can get better at catching the ball and running specific routes."
With Celek and Matt Schobel the only tight ends on the Eagles' roster, Reid has said the team needs to add a third player at that position. Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew is the only tight end projected to be selected in the first round. Second-round possibilities include South Carolina's Jared Cook, Rice's James Casey, and Missouri's Chase Coffman.
"I think they're going to draft one," Celek said. "When and where is up to them. I'm confident enough in my ability that I can earn the job even if they do draft one. In fact, I hope they do get a good tight end because that will help make the team better."