Do the Eagles have an elaborate plan for their Tight ends heading into Training camp?

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Training Camp is just a few days away for the Philadelphia Eagles and there is plenty to look forward to. Whether you’re excited to see how rookie quarterback Carson Wentz performs or simply pumped for the countless position battles that are set to emerge, it promises to be one of the most important camps in recent memory. But there’s one position that’s unusually quiet heading into next week..but it shouldn’t be.

The Eagles signed Brent Celek and Zach Ertz to huge extensions during the offseason, meaning that Celek will likely finish his career as an Eagle while Ertz is set to become a focal point of the offense for years to come. Unfortunately for the backups, it means that the opportunity to earn a starting role becomes somewhat limited..or does it?

As it stands, the Eagles have five Tight Ends on the roster.

Zach Ertz
Brent Celek
Trey Burton
Chris Pantale
M.J McFarland

So, why would the Eagles be carrying five tight ends into training camp when the starting roles are already locked up? It’s not like there’s going to be much in the way of competition and those spots could have easily been designated to positions where there are more prominent holes.

But..the Eagles may well have a plan. A plan that would see three tight ends be listed on the final 53-man roster yet all five of the names above. We’ll start with Trey Burton.

I’ve been predicting this for months now, but for me it’s just too logical to move Trey Burton to wide receiver. After breaking down in-depth why I think the move would be perfect, I continued to dig deeper. Burton began to take reps on the outside and in the slot during OTA’s and Minicamp..and turned a few heads in doing so.

Travis Kelce lined up all over the Offense during Pederson’s impressive play-calling in the second halves of games from week 7 onward last year. While we can expect much of the same from Ertz, the point is that Pederson loves versatility..and it’s something Burton has in bunches.

Partner this with the three catches out of four targets he made in 2015 and his explosive pre-season game against the Packers, in which he caught two touchdowns and the end result is a potential wide receiver in the making. The Eagles crave stability and consistency at the wide receiver position and not only can Burton prove to be a reliable pair of hands, but he can help create more dynamic looks for the Offense.

After analyzing Pederson’s Play-calling in a series of article, it’s clear to see that he loves screen passes..not quite as much as Chip Kelly does..but he still loves them. The development of the “Pederson screen” as 2015 progressed was interesting to watch. Smith’s motion became less rigid and the receivers/running backs finally found a way to turn a short yardage pass into a big play.

One of the ways to do this was by using the bigger receivers to block in unconventional looks. Notice how the hole for Maclin to dart through is created purely by wide receivers fulfilling their blocks? It’s ironic that now Riley Cooper has gone, the Eagles could actually benefit from a “blocking receiver”. Besides, he’s actually extremely similar to Cooper in a lot of ways..

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Not to mention how he shapes up in comparison to the Chiefs receivers of 2015 fundamentally:

Interestingly, Burton lined up on the outside back in 2013 as a Florida Gator, receiving for over 400 yards and a touchdown.

So, if Trey Burton continues to compete as a wide receiver throughout Training Camp and impresses in pre-season as he did a year ago, we could see him make the final 53-man roster as a “flex” receiver. Someone who can contribute as a TE, WR or even at fullback. Burton’s versatility is the perfect weapon for Pederson and we can expect to see him utilize it during training camp.

So that leaves four. Next up is Chris Pantale. The former Jet and Boston College product was previously a dark horse to make the roster, but a strong training camp could really solidify his future. But how can it be solidified with so much competition ahead of him? Like Trey Burton, Pantale likely won’t be competing as a Tight End.

Instead, the 6’5, 254 pounder will be using his athleticism and quick feet to take on the fullback role. His frame may be more suited to playing as a Tight End, but he’s played fullback in the past..both at the collegiate and NFL level. In the Jets final pre-season game of 2014, Pantale played several snaps as a fullback, including this one. It’s fair to say he has the quickness and power for the role! It’s also interesting that this game was against the Eagles.

Pederson stated his intention to implement a fullback very early during his reign as Eagles Head Coach. After signing a fullback and later cutting him, the birds turned their attention to Pantale.

Pantale, like Burton showed tremendous amounts of versatility during offseason workouts and heads into Training camp with a lot of momentum. Against the Defense of Jim Schwartz when the pads come on, it would be surprising not to see Pantale line up in the backfield. The birds need a physical fullback, especially to help on the left side of the line. If, as predicted Allen Barbre is the starting LG heading into camp, there could be some problems. Rushing up the left hand side through a line that’s embodying a zonal blocking scheme with Jason Peters trying to keep his degenerative injury at bay and Allen Barbre trying to cement his spot as a starter could be trickier than thought. Some extra firepower coming out would certainly not do any harm.

After the Eagles started using pistol formations among others new looks, the inclusion of Pantale could be key to the success of a backfield that needs all the help it can get when it comes to creating holes.

So that conveniently leaves three tight ends on the roster. Zach Ertz and Brent Celek as the two starters and M.J McFarland as the backup.

McFarland hasn’t set the world alight during his career and after transferring to Texas El-Paso didn’t even make the field. You can add McFarland to the ever growing list of players that have “character concerns” after McFarland tested positive for a substance banned by the NCAA, sidelining him in his senior year. His career ended with 178 yards on 19 receptions over 36 games.

The substance abuse ban hurt his career tremendously and the substance itself was reportedly taken to help recover from a concussion. When you watch any kind of tape on the physical tight end, you can see the ceiling is still sky high.

However, McFarland was also a proven receiver. The 6’5, 230 pound TE left El Paso El Dorado as the school’s all time receiving leader and has told the Star Telegram that he models his game after Zach Ertz. It could be considered more than a coincidence that he will now be learning under one of his biggest inspirations. A chip on his shoulder and in a position to learn from one of the most dynamic TE’s in the league? This could be the break that McFarland needed.

So, just like that..the Eagles could well take a roster that contains five tight ends and find a way for all five to make the final roster. Burton could become a pivotal flex receiver for the Eagles while the presence of Pantale in the backfield could be crucial. McFarland has the frame and fundamentals to be a solid backup for Celek and Ertz in a season where the bye-week falls horrifyingly early..and even if he doesn’t, he certainly has the presence to make an impact on special teams.

The 2016 Training camp is going to be a crucial one in so many ways for the Eagles and the 89 players vying to make the roster..but for a tight end position that for the most part appears to be all wrapped up on the surface, it could be just as important.

 

Photo credit: Matt Ludtke AP

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