Eagles Wake Up Call: Tight End Training Camp Preview
Leading up to training camp on August 2, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We’ve covered the running backs, wide receivers and offensive line so far. Today, we’ll take a look at the tight ends.
The pressing question: How will the playing time between Brent Celek and Zach Ertz be divided?
The passing of the torch many predicted for last season never really came to fruition. Celek was on the field for 827 of the offensive snaps, or 69 percent of the time, compared to 603 snaps (50 percent) for Ertz. It really does come back to blocking. Ertz was called on as a run-blocker 161 times last season, per Pro Football Focus, to Celek’s count of 443.
Ertz knows the only way to take over the lead role in this run-heavy system is to improve that area of his game, and he’s worked towards that end. His busy travel itinerary this offseason in the name of getting better included a stop to study under former offensive line coach Hudson Houck.
It stands to reason that Ertz will see a jump in playing time as he continues to develop into a more well-rounded tight end. While Celek’s snaps might very well drop as a result, Kelly is a huge fan of the nine-year veteran and will likely still deploy him quite a bit. It wouldn’t be all that surprising, then, if we saw an increase in the number of two tight-end sets in 2015.
Ertz, Celek and special teams standout Trey Burton are all expected to be on the team. Will the Eagles carry a fourth? That seems to be Chip Kelly‘s preference, at least based off the fact that he has gone with four tight ends on his original 53-man roster in each of his first two seasons.
But there are no clear candidates to assume that role at the moment. The options currently in the fold are rookies Andrew Gleichert (Michigan State), Eric Tomlinson (Texas El-Paso) and Justin Tukes (Central Florida). Each will have their chance to make an impression beginning Sunday. If no one emerges from that pack, it could open up a spot for one of the running backs, such as Kenjon Barner. It’s also possible that Kelly looks to the outside for additional tight end depth as we get closer to the season.
One thing I think
I don’t think the Pro Bowl is out of the realm of possibility for Ertz this season. His numbers in 2014 (58 catches, 702 yards, 3 TDs) don’t blow you away, but they take on a different look when you factor in that he was on the sideline half the time last year.
Even so, he finished second on the team in third-down catches (23) behind only Jordan Matthews (24), per Paul Domowitch. Seventy-two percent on his receptions resulted in first downs, and nine of them went for 20-plus yards. His 15 catches against Washington late in the season established a new franchise record.
While there is talent on the outside, the receiving corps of Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor is still pretty green. Ertz has proven that he can routinely shake free over the middle when provided the opportunity, and should be a favorite target of Sam Bradford‘s (assuming he wins the job) as he settles into this offense.
WHAT YOU MISSED
A preview of the offensive line as we near training camp.
“I didn’t feel we were close at the end of the year.” Kelly believes 10-6 is not good enough.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Byron Maxwell tells Zach Berman of the Inquirer that he believes he is a top cornerback:
During Super Bowl week, Maxwell’s name never neared the debate about who was the best cornerback in the NFL – the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, formerly of the Patriots. When that debate takes place at the end of this season, Maxwell expects another contestant.
“I can definitely be in that mix,” Maxwell said. “You’ll see.”
Maxwell’s confidence could come off as baseless bravado, but the Eagles think he could become – and are paying him to be – a top cornerback. Chip Kelly made Maxwell the Eagles’ top priority and the fifth-highest-paid cornerback in the NFL with a six-year, $63-million contract in March, proving Maxwell’s pre-Super Bowl prediction. It is hefty compensation for a 27-year-old who started only 17 career regular-season games and was always the least-heralded player in his own secondary.
Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation believes Brandon Graham will excel in his new, expanded role:
For the first time in his career, Graham is entering an NFL season as a full-time starter. Graham’s career path to this point has been very strange. Many thought the former first round pick wouldn’t even return to the Eagles this offseason, but now he’s a key member of the defense. Graham has excelled as a pass rusher during limited playing time the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham finished as the NFL’s best pass rusher last season in their proprietary “Pass Rush Productivity” stat. He generated six sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 37 hurries in just 225 pass rush snaps played. It remains to be seen if Graham can still be effective now that he will be expected to play a lot more snaps. There are also concerns about Graham’s ability to drop into coverage.
We’ll look at what the buzz is nationally surrounding the Eagles. Five days until camp.