In Chip Kelly’s System, Much Is Asked Of the Tight Ends

You might remember Chip Kelly‘s entertaining response to the tight end question back in April, when he was asked to explain how he can make it work with Brent Celek, James Casey and Zach Ertz all vying for playing time.

“Yeah. You go like that (holds three fingers in the air) and three tight ends go in the game,” he said.

“We are going to go three tight ends in a game. Now, do they go three linebackers? We split them out and throw passes. If they go three DB’s, we smash you. So, pick your poison. Simple game. Isn’t hard. You guys thought coaching was hard. They bring little guys in, you run the ball. They bring big guys in, you throw the ball.”

That’s why Kelly values tight ends so much: they create matchup problems. But in order to capitalize on those matchup advantages, the ends have to be able to successfully “smash” the opposition as a blocker in one moment and create in the passing game the next. That is the challenge that faces this group in Year One under Kelly.

“Of all the spread offenses that I’ve seen, Chip really leans toward running the ball,” said tight ends coach Ted Williams. “In Chip’s offense it is a priority that you be able to block. We spend time teaching them the technique, we spend time teaching them the calls and we spend time teaching them the concepts because it is a priority. Consequently, we’re trying to take all the tight ends we have, examine their skill set, look at their strengths and continue to develop their strengths but develop their weaknesses so they can be the composite tight end that you need them to be: a blocker, receiver, runner.”

Each of the three main tight ends on this roster, then, are being asked to improve a specific area of their game. Williams broke it down for us:

Zach Ertz: “[Receiving] is his strength. But he is big enough, he’s strong enough, he’s willing and we’ve got to be able to get him to be an in-line tight end.We have to produce that skill in him because you can’t just be a receiver in this offense and you just can’t be a blocker in this offense, you’ve got to be able to do both.”

Brent Celek: “His strength is blocking. We’re trying to teach him to be a composite receiver — to read coverages, to read intermediate-level routes and to do things that he hasn’t done a lot of. But he’s progressing in being able to do all the things that are necessary.”

James Casey: “He is a receiver. James has not spent a lot of time as an in-line tight end. He has been the slash guy. He has lined up in the backfield as a fullback, he’s lined up on the line as an H-back, he’s lined up on the line as a tight end. He’s kind of been a jack-of-all-trades. His skill is receiving, his skill is route-running, he knows how to do those kind of things. We have to get him comfortable enough where he can block a six-technique or block a nine-technique. We have to develop that skill.”

Being a “jack-of-all-trades” is vital in this offense. We know that Kelly wants versatile players. On Thursday, Williams helped explain why.

“In this offense, we call it musical chairs,” said Williams. “You are who you are; it doesn’t matter what position you play. You can be anybody on the field at any particular time. You just can’t learn what it is the running back does, and you can’t just learn what the wide receiver does, or  the tight end. You have to learn what everybody does because you could be over here as a tight end on this play and be out there as a wide receiver on the next play, so you better know what he’s doing.”

The tight ends in this offense are required to do every aspect of their job well, and be able to do everyone else’s job also. Given those demands, it’s not surprising Kelly invests in the position.

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