But when the Birds finally played their first regular season game, Casey was on the sideline for every offensive snap until it was kneel-down time late in the fourth quarter.
“We won the game,” Casey said. “That’s the only thing that really matters. I got some snaps on special teams, but a lot of that stuff’s out of my control. I can only control what I do on the practice field and how I’m performing when I get opportunities. I can’t make myself get on the field. That’s the coach’s decision. I’ve thought I’ve done a really good job throughout the preseason. I’ve thought I’ve done a really good job at practice. That’s all I can really do. It’s not like I went out there and played really bad and then [didn’t get] opportunities.
“I’ve just been working hard. I’m never gonna be a guy that kind of causes problems in the locker room, anything like that. They know I want to play. Everybody wants to play in the locker room. Everybody wants to start. Everybody wants to be on the field. I’m obviously disappointed not being on the field. But that’s part of the game. I’m just gonna keep working. I’ll be ready when my number’s called, when I get opportunities to be on the field. Hopefully that time will come, but I’ll just keep working and just be ready when my time comes.”
When the Eagles signed Casey, the only player ahead of him on the depth chart was Brent Celek. But in April’s draft, the team selected Zach Ertz in the second round.
Tight end snaps could vary from week to week, but there seems to be a clear pecking order for now. Celek played 82 percent of the snaps Monday night. Ertz played 30 percent. Casey was only on the field for two plays. And Emil Igwenagu was inactive.
Casey signed a three-year, $12 million deal with $8 million guaranteed. He dealt with a hamstring injury in the summer and a knee issue in the spring. For now, his role is unclear.
“I signed here expecting to play and expecting to get opportunities to be on the field playing offensively. But then they drafted Ertz at the top of the second round. He’s of course gonna get some opportunities. He’s a great player. Brent’s a great player. I feel like I’m a really good player. I still have a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability. I played for four years. I started for two years. I’m definitely not lacking confidence. I know I can play. I know if I go out there, if I get opportunities, I’m gonna make plays and gonna be successful. But just the situation I’m in right now, I’m not getting a lot of opportunities.
“It’s not something I’m gonna pout about or whine about or complain or try to cause problems in the locker room or anything like that. It is what it is right now. I’m getting opportunities on special teams. That’s what my role is right now so I’m trying to be the best I can at that, trying to go out there on the punt team or whatever I’m doing and make plays there and be ready for when my number’s called offensively. Hopefully I’ll get chances, but just be prepared whenever.”
Kelly has stressed all season that he loves the versatility tight ends bring to an offense. But the Eagles went with two or more tight ends on just 10 of their 80 plays Monday night, or 12.5 percent of the time.
“We were in a ton of 11 [1 RB, 1 TE] personnel last night,” Kelly said. “He’s not in the game. A lot of times that dictates what they do. If we’re 11, they have more DBs in the game. That was our thought process. That was it. It has nothing to do with James’ ability, what we’re happy with him, not happy with him. Sometimes we’re going to feature three tight ends prominently, and other times we’re going to be a little bit more spread. Last night we were a little bit more spread.”
Added Casey: “I didn’t really know necessarily how much I was gonna play going into the game,” Casey said. “I was prepared to play of course. You’re always prepared to be out there and play every snap, but I didn’t play a lot, or at all offensively. I played at the very end when there was just the kneel plays. Of course I’m disappointed. I’m not content at just sitting on the sidelines for sure. I’m not happy with sitting on the sidelines. No one in here is. You want to be out on the field.”
Asked if Kelly or anyone on the coaching staff has talked to him today and reassured him that his number will be called, Casey said: “No, not at all. They haven’t had any communication at all about that kind of staff, which I don’t need that. I don’t need them coming in babysitting me or telling me, ‘Hey, it’s OK. It’s fine.’ I’m a grown man. I understand the situation. I’m not gonna get mad about it or try to cause problems. It’s part of what’s going on right now. The main thing is we won the game. We’re 1-0 so everything’s good when you’re winning. I’ll be ready when they need me.”