Eagles Film Room: Brent Celek will have a crucial role to play next season


Doug Pederson’s first season as Eagles Head Coach was one of intrigue. After his success with Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and how consistently efficient Brent Celek was under Andy Reid, many expected the tandem of Ertz and Celek to hit the ground running and contribute in numerous aspects of the game under their new Head Coach. Instead, the 2016 season was one of injury setbacks for Zach Ertz, a breakout for Trey Burton, and one of confusion when it came to veteran Brent Celek.

After signing an extension with the team that would ensure he retires in Midnight green, Celek would go on to set career lows in receptions, yards and targets, while failing to register a single touchdown…the first time that has ever happened in his ten year career. While many simply justified this sudden drop by claiming Celek had taken on a “blocking tight end” role, his 439 offensive snaps, 162 less than the season before.

Celek did take on a more reserved role in Pederson’s Offense, but it was crucial to their rushing success…something that came in flurries last year. But after Carson Wentz broke the NFL record for most attempted passes during a rookie season, it was clear that Pederson needed to balance his gameplan. From the devastating loss to Cincinnati where Wentz attempted 60 passes, to a rushing breakout like no other in week 3, the backfield just seemed to lack direction. One moment, Ryan Mathews would be a lead back, before being relegated to a goal-line role while Darren Sproles became the workhorse. The good news is, that those concerns should now be nullified for the most part.

The Eagles bought in two extremely important pieces of the puzzle during the offseason, drafting Donnel Pumphrey, and signing veteran rusher LeGarrette Blount. Where Blount really helps the Eagles of course, is an area where they simply struggled last year; converting on third down. The team converted third downs on the ground just 45% of the time last year, 23% less than they did under Chip Kelly just one year ago. Blount’s prowess as a dominant downhill runner who can force something out of nothing will no doubt be invaluable to an Eagles backfield that lacked that lone lone element.

When you combine that assertive style with the elusiveness and versatility possessed by Pumphrey and Sproles, what you have is a backfield that’s primed to cause more than just a headache for opposing Defenses. Split backfields have already filtered their way into spring workouts, while running backs in the slot could be something we see much more of next season…and if they’re to be successful in setting up that zonal rushing threat, then it’s the veteran tight end who could hold the keys to really elevating the attack.

Although Celek was statistically quiet, his presence was felt heavily by the Eagles running backs last season…and it’s something that went largely underrated. A lot of people refer to the athleticism that runs throughout the Eagles offensive line without realizing why it’s so important. At 32-years old, Brent Celek still has an abundance of athleticism at his disposal, which is why his strength as a run blocker has never faltered.

Take a look at this lead block on an outside sweep for Wendell Smallwood. Celek picks up his man and is able to force him up the field to create a window for the rookie running back. The Safety dropped down to make a play, but the run would have been for minimal gain if not for Celek’s ability to drive forward and keep contact with the defender.

That wouldn’t be the only time that Smallwood would benefit from a strong block by one of the greatest tight ends to ever suit up in midnight green. Celek’s efficiency on special teams was just as impressive, with this block below paving the way for a kick-return touchdown against Washington. Celek’s ability to read the situation and dissect what lies ahead was clinical in the play below, just as it has been on countless occasions since being drafted by the team in 2008.

But back to his prowess in the run game, it should come as no surprise that the Eagles most explosive rushing performance of the year came in week 3, the same game that Brent Celek enjoyed one of his best games that season. At the start of the game, Celek made his impact by setting up a beautiful screen pass.Mauling his opposition to the ground, it opened the door for a huge play that really set the tone for what Darren Sproles would later go on to do. But without that block at the bottom of the screen, and the secure hands of Brent Celek…that play may never have happened.

Celek would then go on to help set up two touchdowns. Wendell Smallwood’s first NFL touchdown all stemmed from a great block by the Eagles tight end, who collapsed the pocket inside, knowing that Smallwood and Allen Barbre were pulling around the outside. You can see the effect that Celek’s slight shift has on Vince Williams…and it’s that combination of Celek’s strength and Johnson’s sheer power that opened this goal-line opportunity.

To cap off the big day, Celek then had a HUGE pull on this Ryan Mathews touchdown. Slipping inside of Lane Johnson who picked up Anthony Chickillo, Celek heads straight into the path of Stephon Tuitt and knocks him off balance enough for Mathews to slip into the hole unscathed. Another block, another touchdown.

Celek’s new reputation as a run-blocking tight end also took some pressure off in passing situations. Lined up against Richard Sherman in the nickel here, Celek is able to fight through the block and do something that the Eagles wideouts struggled to last year, adapt for their QB. On what was a regular drag route over the middle, Celek realizes that Wentz looking back his way means there’s a lot of traffic over that side of the field. Their eyes lock and the veteran immediately begins to adjust his route and change direction. This provides a HUGE window for Wentz to lead Celek into, and move the chains deep into enemy territory.

Celek is still a reliable pass catcher. It may not be his forte, but just as teams will now naturally deflect their attention to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, allowing guys like Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz to rip through even matchups and mismatches, the same can now be said for Celek, who can still catch Defenses off guard and make big catches over the middle.

It’s not until you take a closer look at the big rushing plays by the Eagles that you realize just how much of an impact Brent Celek had…especially against the Steelers. The trouble was that the rushing attack became so stagnant at times that Celek’s work largely went under the radar. If there’s no big run to turn heads, then there’s play to analyze and assign credit for paving the way for a freight train.

Now, with a rebalanced offense and a backfield that is simply loaded with versatility, Celek’s role as a blocker will be more important than ever. His efforts may have been undermined until now, but in the heart of the 2017 season, when both Sproles and Pumphrey are split behind the offensive line, it’s Celek’s continued strength and will to win each matchup that may allow the penny to drop for many. A blocking tight end is far more than “disposable”. If anything, he’s the opposite…and Brent Celek could be the gatekeeper to an explosive zonal rushing attack moving forward.



Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports