Last season didn’t play out as most expected when it came to the tight end position.
After the Eagles signed James Casey to a three-year, $12 million deal and used the 35th overall pick on Zach Ertz, the expectation was that Chip Kelly would deploy multiple tight-end sets with great frequency. That wasn’t the case.
The Eagles had two or more tight-ends on the field 27 percent of the time last season, according to Paul Domowitch. Casey averaged just 11 plays per game, and Ertz was on the field less than half as much as veteran Brent Celek. It proved to be an offense that relied primarily on "11" personnel (three receivers, one tight end) despite the perceived glut of talent at the tight end spot.
It's a safe bet that the 2014 attack will more closely resemble the offense that many were anticipating a year ago.
A closer look at the numbers shows that Ertz played 45 percent of the snaps during the second half of the regular season, compared to 36 percent over the first eight games. Twenty-two of his 36 catches came in the second half of the year, as did all four of his touchdowns.
Rarely do rookie tight ends make an immediate impact. The degree of difficulty was that much higher for the Stanford product, who missed a big chunk of spring practices because of the NCAA graduation rules.
"The familiarity of everything, the routine that I've kind of gotten myself into, I think that's kind of the biggest difference [from last year]," said Ertz.
The dynamics have shifted pretty significantly on offense since this team last lined up. DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant are gone and there are question marks up and down the wide receiver depth chart. Howie Roseman has stated on a number of occasions that they look at the overall picture when it comes to their skill players rather than by position. So it's not a matter of Jordan Matthews or Jeremy Maclin filling the void, but rather a collective effort from backs, ends, et al.
Ertz will be an important part of the equation.
Asked how he sees his role expanding this year, Ertz replied, "I think you kind of saw it the second half of the season what went on, I was used all over the field, so hopefully it's more of that."
Kelly explained that Ertz [as well as Casey] is being used as a "move" tight end in this offense. That is similar to the way Aaron Hernandez was deployed in New England -- as more of a "Joker" that lines up in various spots and is used primarily as a pass-catcher. Celek is more of the traditional "in-line" tight end where blocking is a bigger priority.
It's not really about taking snaps away from the vet at this point -- Ertz and Celek are playing two different positions in a way -- it's more about using packages where they are on the field together. Chances are we'll see a good deal more of Ertz, who averaged 13 yards per reception in '13.
"I'm just coming out here every day with the singular focus of getting better," said Ertz. "I've got some great coaches and some other great leaders in the tight end room.
"I've had a relentless work ethic this offseason. I want to get better every day, and that's kind of been the focus."
WHAT YOU MISSED
An update on Anthony Spencer and more can be found in the NFC East Roundup.
Jeremy Maclin is one of several notable wide receivers scheduled to hit free agency after this season.
In case you missed it, Josh did a terrific job telling the story of offensive lineman Karim Barton.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Josh Huff is putting in the extra work, writes Kevin Rossi of CSN Philly.
“You have to prove to the veterans that you belong,” Huff said. “You can’t just have a [draft] pick and throw him in the fire. That’s disrespectful to the veterans that have been here. You just have put work in where you fit in and continue to work to make your way up the depth chart.”...
With mandatory minicamps beginning on June 17, Huff saw the bulk of his snaps in OTAs from the slot with the third team offense. But he has been patient thus far, carefully biding his time with a simple philosophy.
“Just stay out of the way, do work and show the coaches that I can make plays and show them that I can be the total team player,” he said.
Jimmy Kempski thinks Fletcher Cox could have a breakout season for the Eagles.
During 2013 training camp, Brandon Boykin had an absurd number of pass breakups. Every time he got his hand on a ball but didn't intercept it, he had to do push-ups as a penalty. During the regular season, those pass breakups turned into much bigger plays, as Boykin finished second in the NFL with six INTs.
Fletcher Cox may be in a similar situation as Boykin. Last season, if you only look at his stats, you'll come away unimpressed. Cox had just three sacks, four tackles for loss, no forced fumbles and one batted pass. However, he was a lot more disruptive than the numbers would indicate.
We're sitting down with the assistant coaches this afternoon, and will pass along anything interesting they have to say.