Eagles Wake-Up Call: TE Training Camp Preview

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Leading up to training camp, we wrote position-by-position previews of the Eagles’ roster. We have already covered the defensive line, quarterbacks, outside linebackers, running backs, inside linebackers, cornerbacks, wide receivers, safeties and offensive line. Now it’s on to the final group: tight ends.

The pressing question: Is Zach Ertz poised for a breakout campaign?

The last offensive play of the 2013 season was a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Ertz that put the the Eagles up on the Saints, 24-23, with just under five minutes to play. (Blanking on what happened next.) There's some significance to the fact that in the biggest moment of the year to that point, Chip Kelly trusted the rookie enough to have him in the game, and that the quarterback had enough confidence in him to dial up his number.

Ertz slowly built up that trust over the course of the season. After a relatively quiet start to his rookie campaign, Ertz came on late. Twenty-two of his 36 regular-season catches came in the second half of the year, as did all four of his touchdowns. (He added three catches for 22 yards and the TD in that Wild Card game.)

His final numbers (36 catches, 469 yards, 4 TDs) aren't eye-popping but they stack up pretty well compared to both the 2013 tight end class and the stats that some tight end standouts put up in their first seasons.

Many are predicting that Ertz takes a big step forward this season. The Eagles are certainly hoping that's the case.

Brent Celek is the starter and that's not expected to change this year. In a way, Celek and Ertz are playing two different positions. Kelly explained that Ertz [as well as James 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.

Celek could very well end up with more snaps, but that doesn't mean that Ertz won't be featured prominently.

Roster battles

The Eagles' original 53-man roster last season featured four tight ends -- Celek, Ertz, Emil Igwenagu and Casey. Igwenagu was eventually released and signed to the practice squad.

Celek, Ertz and Casey are expected to occupy the top three spots once again. Igwenagu and rookies Blake Annen (Cincinnati) and Trey Burton (Florida) will be competing to make the team this summer.

The Eagles are already on the hook for much of Casey's $3.985 million salary this season, adding to the likelihood that he'll stick this year. Whether he sees the $4 million he's scheduled to make next season is another question.

One thing I think

I'm expecting to see a significant increase in the number of two-tight end looks this season.

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 Celek.

Ertz began earning more playing time as the season went on. He played 45 percent of the snaps during the second half of the regular season, compared to 36 percent over the first eight games.

It's not just about the development of Ertz but also the dynamic shift at wide receiver. Gone are DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant. In are rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, two candidates to fill the third wide receiver spot alongside Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Seems logical that the Eagles would lean on multiple tight-end sets (especially early on) as the first-year wideouts get acclimated to the pro game.


Sheil's 90-man rating system is back, with some interesting notes on Matt Barkley and others.

After contemplating a holdout, Evan Mathis chose to report to training camp.

Sheil broke down Lane Johnson and the offensive line in our latest training camp preview.


Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com addresses five questions about the cornerbacks heading into camp:

4. How ready is Jaylen Watkins?

When the Eagles drafted Watkins in the fourth round of this year's draft, they admitted he was a bit of a project and a bit of a gamble. He is a bit of a gamble because Watkins was battling an ankle injury during pre-draft work outs, causing his 40-time to slip 4.41 seconds. The Eagles and Watkins feel comfortable that once healthy, which he should be heading into camp, he will be one of the fastest corners on the team. Watkins is also a bit of a project because he played both safety and corner in college, and did not exactly excel at either. The Eagles are going to start him out at cornerback, but seeing how ready he is to play and where he lines up is going to be worth keeping an eye on.

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com analyzes the running back situation behind LeSean McCoy:

Last year Bryce Brown was the clear backup, but the Eagles dealt him during the NFL draft. We can’t really talk about the RB situation without talking about Brown and that deal. Why would the Eagles trade a player with Brown’s talent?

We don’t have a definitive answer, but there are a few guesses. First up, you wonder how Brown fit Kelly’s football culture. This isn’t to say Brown was a bad guy at all. He never got in trouble and I didn’t hear a word about him, but his background suggests there may have been some issues with fitting in a football program. Kelly wants players that buy in to his Total Football concept. Maybe Brown didn’t do that.

Then there is his on-field performance. Brown showed great potential in 2012, but struggled last year. His fumbling issue went away, but he never looked all that comfortable in the offense. Brown tried to run outside a lot, with poor results. In his defense, it seemed like the Eagles ran him outside a lot as well. Either way, we only saw glimpses of the player from 2012.


Welcome to football season. Players begin reporting to NovaCare around noon. First practice is Saturday at 11:45.

Josh Paunil contributed to this post.

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  • GW.Fisher

    Finally, the sun is shining once again…

  • Dominik
    • Andy Six Score and Four

      Sorry it’s sideways.

      • Dominik

        Why not both?

        Or at least job sharing: Nick Foles keeps calm, we all hate Dallas and Mrs. Dorenbos keeps talking dirty to me.

        • CHRIS – CB with dreads

          I like the way you think.

      • cliff h-MOAR white goons

        have this in toddler size? when i become supreme overlord, every baby leaving hospital will be wrapped in this t-shirt

  • DirtyWaters

    I totally thought practice started today. I can’t believe I laid awake all night with butterflies in my stomach for nothing.

  • cliff h-MOAR white goons

    on Brown, 3rd point, who in the world turns down (or even offers) a 4th rd pick for a backup RB? glad to see him go, once a fumbler, always a fumbler. when your lone job is to give Shady a couple plays break each quarter, dont care if you get tackled by first guy you see, just hang onto ball. though his inability to step over chalk was getting frustrating too. pick up blitzers so QB doesnt get killed, low five McCoy on your way to the sidelines, collect check.
    No way Casey’s seeing 4m next year. i’d carry 3 TE’s and use PS to stash Burton, guy went undrafted for a reason (size most likely).

    • Dominik

      BB didn’t fumble last year.

      Of course, you take that 4th rounder (who maybe even is a 3rd, if all things come together – or you make that 4th rounder next year to a 3rd in 2016 + a 6th in 2015 or something like that), but I wouldn’t count the fumbling against BB anymore.

      • cliff h-MOAR white goons

        trying to tell me that everytime he touched the ball you didnt think ‘dont fumble!’. he’s simply not good enough to have that issue hanging over his head. plus, limited touches and kelly hammering it home. we’ll see what happens in Buffalo. take more than 1 season for me to take the fumbler tag off him. glad i dont have to worry about it anymore.

        • aub32

          Shady fumbled quite a bit in 2012 as well. Coaching matters. I personally feel that BB is a better option than Sproles or Polk if the unspeakable were to happen to #25. The guy has talent. He just needed some work on knowing when to turn up field and get better at keeping his feet.

          • http://www.corcommunity.com/ Kelce’s Beard

            I agree re: the ceiling for BB, and thinking he’s proven to be more capable if the wor———- I don’t even want to type it.
            Makes me wonder then, after a whole season of coaching, if Chip thought those were some particular issues he didn’t see progress on. BB may have all the talent in the world, but Chip may have seen an lack of mental ability (or desire) to put it all together.
            I can see this being valid reasoning even if he was just cut (not that I agree, just valid). Considering we got mid-round value makes it even easier to swallow.

          • aub32

            That’s what I am resting on. The value was just too good to pass on. We already have an All Pro back. A fourth round pick is a great value for a backup RB. If BB were a WR or CB with the same potential, then I don’t think we make that trade. However, BB would have had a very small role in this offense with McCoy and Sproles. So I think that his potential that would only be seen if you know…… wasn’t worth a mid round pick that could produce a starter in an area of need.

        • anon

          i guess you don’t like redemption stories.

    • anon

      Casey’s money is guaranteed i believe.

      • UKEagle99 à l’orange

        This year it is, not next. I believe.

        • NickS FFLC/GM/DPP/Scout/HC/OC

          I believe you are correct.

    • aub32

      Brown looked to be a better blocker than Polk last year. I think he’s also more talented. I can’t agree with your fumble assessment either. Barber and Peterson both fixed their issues. Everyone had fumble problems in 2012, not just Brown. I attribute that to the gross lack of accountability in Reid’s later years.

      • Cyrus Robinson

        I remember a story here a week or so ago talking about how after plays, Chip Kelly would talk to McCoy about what he should have done. With that in mind, I definitely see why BB may have fallen out of favor with Chip. BB ALWAYS ran to the outside then tripped over himself. He’d run like wild and break a few tackles then TRIP. Probably the most frustrating runner I’ve ever seen. Really talented, but he was clearly lacking something. Cleats? Balance? Field vision? Whatever it was, it wasn’t improving. Plus swapping a backup for a 4th rounder is almost always a nice deal.

        • aub32

          I agree with your last sentence. I don’t think Kelly was fed up with BB. This isn’t like how the team was determined to get rid of him like in the case of #10. The deal was just too good to pass up, especially since Shady is undoubtedly the guy. 4th round picks can become starters and good role players. So though I liked BB’s potential, the price was something I cannot disagree with.

  • TNA

    I think the premium on optionalilty will limit playing time for Ertz. On any given play CK will have to decide on which two players to put on the field out of Celek, Ertz, Sproles, Pope, Huff, Casey, etc. This is assuming McCoy, Maclin and Cooper are part of the base package. This is where Foles’ lack of running ability hurts as it puts more of an emphasis on getting a blocker than a playmaker out on the field. Depending on the defense they’re facing, I think we’ll be looking at a lot of Celek OR Ertz and Matthews OR Sproles.

    • aub32

      If, and it’s a big if, Ertz can really develop as a receiver then I could see a formation in which we line up 2TE, 1WR, and 2RB. This could be especially useful near the goal line.

      • TNA

        As the Eagles approach the goal line and if they enter their sprint offense with no substitutions, I’m curious to see what personnel Kelly trusts the most to take advantage of man coverage in short yardage space. For example, in your package, who would be the one WR? Cooper, Maclin or Matthews? Also, more generally, if it came down to a TE/WR choice, would you put in Ertz or Matthews as a slot receiver? But without a doubt, as the Eagles get within PK range, I’d imagine having Sproles out on the field would be a good thing due to his footwork, ability to beat man coverage with quickness in limited space and providing CK with an option to move him around to create a mismatch.

        Interesting choices to make.

        • aub32

          Maclin is the most talented. So I would prefer that he would remain on the field. However, that’s assuming that he’s healthy and has bought into blocking and fighting for extra yards, at least near the endzone. Otherwise, give me Cooper. In high pressure situations, give me Ertz over Matthews right now. I trust Ertz more at this point and feel like Matthews needs and will have a smaller role initially.

          • TNA

            I’d like to see how Matthews does against NFL defenders and continue to prove his Cooper-esque ability (in college against SEC defenders) to go get the ball while marked tightly or in a crowd.

            Ertz vs. Matthews (based on limited observations and reports):
            Hands: Matthews > Ertz
            Route running: Ertz > Matthews (it’s close — both are supposedly relatively precise and talented route runners)
            Blocking: Ertz >> Matthews
            Speed: Matthews >> Ertz

            I don’t think this is a binary choice by any means, but I think it presents interesting options for CK.

          • aub32

            I don’t know. I have read a couple of reports that put the phrase “stone hands” and Matthews in the same sentence. Yes, everything has been positive in the spring, but that was in shorts. Rookies often struggle catching some of the simplest of passes. Brady was definitely hurt by not having much veteran talent around him and had to turn Edleman into a 100+ reception guy. I remain tentative on our rookies, and what I saw last year makes me think Kelly will be as well. Outside of Lane, the 4th overall selection, Kelly took his time with all the rookies. I think we will see more of the same concerning Matthews.

        • anon

          he seemed to really like 2TE sets at the end of the year expect to see that more.

  • Ebrano

    Cant wait to see the rookies… as well as Maclin and Sproles…

    • FluxCapacitor

      I think Maclin can excel in this offense. His skill set seems to be a perfect match, as long as his speed and agility goes back to pre-injury levels.

  • 370HSSV 0773H

    Lots of interesting players to watch this year.

  • Andy

    No ACL’s this year!!!

  • Soybot


    • Dominik

      I raise this picture with that one:


      • Andy

        He’s so gleeful carrying that foam bat.

    • Amar, CB who bought in

      This picture now replaces the family picture I have as my desktop background.