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Eagles' Celek rejuvenated by Kelly's offense

Tight end Brent Celek expects to have more balls thrown his way in coach Chip Kelly’s new offense.

Eagles tight end Brent Celek. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
Eagles tight end Brent Celek. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)Read more

TO BORROW a line from Mark Twain, reports of Brent Celek's football death have been greatly exaggerated.

A subpar season and the offseason arrival of two heralded tight ends - free agent James Casey and second-round pick Zach Ertz - had a lot of people in these parts ready to put the 6-year veteran out to pasture.

But when the Eagles open the season in less than 2 weeks against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, Celek, 28, once again will be their starting tight end.

"I love this offense," he said. "Just from a communications standpoint. It's amazing how fast you can execute it."

The Eagles have run 225 offensive plays in their first three preseason games. That's an average of 75 per game, which is more than any other team in the league.

For Celek and the rest of the Eagles' receiving corps, more plays means more opportunities for catches and big plays.

He has seven receptions in the preseason, which is the most he's had since his rookie year (2007). Productive preseasons don't necessarily translate into productive regular seasons. But it's been clear from watching Chip Kelly's offense operate this summer that the 6-4, 255-pound Celek still is going to be a big part of the Eagles' passing game.

Last year, Celek came out of the blocks fast, catching 12 passes for 222 yards in season-opening wins over the Browns and the Ravens, including an eight-catch, 157-yard Week 2 performance in the Eagles' win over the eventual Super Bowl champions.

But then the music died for both Celek and the Eagles. They lost 12 of their next 14 games and he had just one touchdown catch and notched more than 60 receiving yards just one more time the rest of the season (73 against the Cowboys in Week 13).

"I don't really care about my stats," he said. "What was so frustrating was the losing. Losing game after game. It's rough on you. Those bumps and bruises hurt way worse when you're not winning."

Celek has taken a major pounding in his first six NFL seasons. Picture that aluminum cooler in the Corona beer commercial and you have a pretty good idea of the abuse he's absorbed.

While he regularly ranks in the top five among tight ends in yards after the catch, it's not because he's great at eluding tacklers. It's because he's great at running them over. But that takes its toll on a body.

Two years ago, Celek had one of the best seasons of his career. Caught 62 passes for 811 yards and five touchdowns. Was second on the team in third-down receptions (16). Averaged 8.0 yards-after-the-catch, which was the best among the league's tight ends.

Played 16 games that season and never - never - appeared on the team's weekly injury report. We would find out later he played most of that season with a double sports hernia and a torn hip labrum. I can't even imagine how many aspirin he needed to make it through that season.

Until he was forced to sit out a game last December with a concussion, Celek played in 93 straight games for the Eagles.

Celek often was criticized for dropping passes last year. Dropped eight in 15 games. But that's the same number of drops he had in '09 when he had his best season, catching 76 passes for 971 yards and eight touchdowns. Led the team in third-down catches that year with 26.

Per Pro Football Focus, he was one of nine tight ends with eight or more drops last year. That group included the Saints' Jimmy Graham (15), the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez (10), the Packers' Jermichael Finley (nine), the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew (nine), the Cowboys' Jason Witten (eight) and the Bengals' Jermaine Gresham (eight).

Bottom line: When you catch most of your passes in middle-of-the-field, rush-hour traffic, you're going to drop some balls.

Celek will be the first to admit that he wondered if Kelly was trying to tell him something when he brought in Casey and drafted Ertz.

"That's only natural," he said. "But you go in every day with the attitude that you're going to give it everything you've got and work extremely hard and hope the best happens. But it's normal to wonder what's going to happen."

One of the reasons Celek's receiving numbers took a nosedive last year was because all the injuries to the Eagles' offensive linemen forced him to stay in and help with pass-protection.

Despite playing 82 percent of the team's offensive snaps, Celek was targeted just 83 times last year. That was just five fewer than wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who only played in 11 games.

That will change this year. In Kelly's offense, the tight ends seldom are asked to stay in and block on pass plays.

Celek, like most of the Eagles' veteran players, has wholeheartedly bought in to the new training regimen that Kelly has brought with him from Oregon.

"I'm taking better care of my body soft-tissue-wise when it comes to rolling out, stretching," Celek said. "Before I go to bed every night, I've gotten into a routine of stretching 45 minutes to an hour. Just because, if I don't do it, I don't feel good the next day. And considering how many plays we're running here, you've got to feel good.

"It's been a lifestyle change for me, to be honest. A total lifestyle change. It's been good for me.

"Change is good."

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