Part Three of a Series
The Eagles are amid their first organized team activities this week, and they will practice throughout the next four weeks. After those practices, coach Chip Kelly will have a better idea of the Eagles roster. But there's a lot that will happen between now and then.
Here is a look at the tight ends:
Projected current first team
TE1: Brent Celek (6-foot-4, 255 pounds), age 28, 7th season
TE2: James Casey (6-3, 240), 28, 5th
Of all the positions on the Eagles offense, the one that has seen the most change this offseason is tight end. Kelly brought in three new quarterbacks, but the current top two remain the same. Drafting tackle Lane Johnson with the top pick was a significant move, but other than that, the offensive line remains as is. There have been wide receivers added here and running backs added there, but not one of those players is assured a roster spot.
Casey and Zach Ertz, meanwhile, aren't going anywhere for the time being. Casey was added through free agency and Ertz was drafted in the second round. Kelly obviously looked at the Eagles offense, saw that 11 of the top 50 ball catchers in the NFL last season were tight ends and came to the conclusion that he needed to upgrade. Kelly's offenses at Oregon featured significant contributions from the tight end position, but it's a position in the NFL that teams have received increased production from in recent seasons.
Last season, Eagles tight ends Brent Celek and Clay Harbor accounted for 82 catches for 870 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers aren't low compared to other teams, but both players regressed in 2012. After a down season in 2010, Celek bounced back the following year. The overall inefficiency on offense can be blamed for part of his slip last season, but he was often too inconsistent. Celek dropped balls and took penalties in key moments and wasn't much of a factor in the red zone.
He's been reliable for most of his career, though. He's only missed one game and was one of the few players who actually stood up and held himself accountable for last season's mess. Celek at 28 isn't getting any younger. Casey is also 28, but he hasn't logged as many miles. He had his best season last year in Houston (34 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns) when he was asked to run more pass patterns. A part-time fullback, Casey will be asked to handle some of those lead blocking chores with Kelly not expected to carry a fullback. He has the type of versatility Kelly covets and could be lined up all over the place. I'm not sure he'll put up grand numbers, but Casey will come in handy.
Zach Ertz (6-5, 249), 22, rookie; Clay Harbor (6-3, 255), 25, 4th.
Because of the Casey acquisition some thought Kelly would avoid taking a tight end in the draft. Instead, he took Ertz out of Stanford. Asked how he would use all three tight ends not long after the selection, Kelly held up three fingers and said, "We're going to go three tight ends in a game." I don't doubt he'll have some plays with all three tight ends on the field, but I can't imagine there will be many. Brian Solomon over at the McNabborKolb blog recently did a nice job of dispelling the likelihood of three-tight end sets in Kelly's offense. Two tight ends? Well, that could be a common formation, especially with the multi-faceted Casey.
Ertz should play right away, but I wouldn't expect him to supplant Celek in snaps. I stood next to him last week, and while he is listed as only six pounds lighter than Celek, he is certainly slighter and will need time to mature into an NFL frame. He has the potential to be long-term tight end for the Eagles. I'm not sure what becomes of Harbor. I could see Kelly carrying four tight ends. Why not? More than likely, Harbor will head somewhere else. He has some impressive physical tools. But he has lapses and isn't much of a blocker.
Emil Igwenagu (6-2, 245), 24, 2d; Derek Carrier (6-4, 241), 22, 1st.
If Casey hadn't come aboard, Igwenagu might have had a chance at making the team. He's a fullback-tight end hybrid that has some value and should catch on elsewhere.