Brent Celek's late-game slide short of the end zone to seal Sunday's Eagles win drew praise from the coaches as an unselfish decision. The coaching staff has applauded the seventh-year tight end throughout this season.
The curious part is that statistically, this is not among Celek's finest years with the Eagles. He has 25 catches for 348 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games, and is not among the NFL's top 10 tight ends in any of those categories. Yet coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur habitually laud Celek, often unprompted.
Kelly singled out Celek after the 34-20 victory over Detroit for having a "really, really good game." Shurmur opened a Tuesday news conference by discussing Celek. Their belief is that his responsibilities go beyond the stat sheet.
"We as coaches see what he does as a player and a teammate behind the scenes," Shurmur said. "We appreciate what he does on plays where he may not get production. He's an outstanding blocker. He's an unselfish player, as he displayed the other night, and he just does all the things that you want as a coach."
Kelly was asked what in his offense allows for LeSean McCoy to reel off rushing yards. He offered six numbers: 71, 65, 62, 79, 69, and 87. Those are the jersey numbers of the team's five starting offensive linemen and Celek. Kelly put the tight end in that group.
"Even though the ball's not maybe being thrown to me, in the run game, I've got to block," Celek said. "I still have a job to do on every play. That's what I worry about: taking care of my man in the run game. I think I've really improved my run blocking."
Celek struggled with that skill when he arrived in Philadelphia as a fifth-round pick in 2007. But this season, Pro Football Focus, which rates every player's blocking, has Celek among the top 10 run-blocking tight ends in the NFL. He has not ranked that high since the website started charting blockers in 2008.
"I just feel like I'm a better football player this year than I was the last few years," Celek said.
This is directly related to way Celek feels. He has been one of the beneficiaries of the team's sports science program, with an emphasis on sleep and nutrition. Other players have taken note. Players are wary of discussing details for proprietary purposes, but Celek specifically referenced soft-tissue recovery as something that has helped him this season.
"He's bought into everything," Shurmur said. "And if you ask him, he feels and sees the benefits of what we're doing, and we just appreciate him for all those things."
Even though Celek is 28, he could have been characterized as an old 28 entering the season. He played a physical style and seldom missed games. By his own admission, he spent the last two offseasons "beat up."
He hasn't changed how he plays. Shumur called him one of the team's toughest players, Kelly labeled him consistent and underrated, and quarterback Nick Foles said he knows he can rely on Foles "to catch it and take the hit."
Celek has played 78 percent of the offensive snaps this season, nearly twice as many as No. 2 tight end Zach Ertz. Before the season, there were questions about whether Celek would maintain a prominent role in the offense after Ertz was selected in the second round of April's draft and James Casey was signed on the first day of free agency.
Kelly has been compelled to keep him on the field. Celek said Kelly told him during the offseason that he would be playing a big role, and he believed it and worked accordingly. Told that his veteran status has offered him some clout, he shot down the theory.
"It doesn't matter," Celek said. "I play football for the Philadelphia Eagles. If they ask me to do something, I do it."
Celek said he's at a point in his career when the statistics don't matter. For proof, he slid 10 yards shy of the end zone with nothing but snow in front of him on Sunday. Shurmur said it might have bothered fantasy football owners, but it kept the defensive players from being exposed to injury after a kickoff and ensured an Eagles win.
"I would have scored," McCoy joked, "but he's a vet."