As we continue our ultimate Eagles Training Camp Preivew and branch further out from the quarterback, we begin to now look at the receiving options Carson Wentz will have in 2017…but before we hit the stars on the outside, there’s one very important position of intrigue, tight end. While the starting duo is set in stone barring any unforeseen circumstances, there could still be a surprise or two come the end of preseason.
The main question surrounding the former Stanford standout heading into 2017, is whether or not he will finally have the breakout that has been expected since those signs of greatness upon entering the league. This may finally be the year fans were hoping for, as all the pieces have fallen into place.
This will be the first time that Ertz enters a second straight season with the same quarterback…and for those who wonder why that stat matters, just look at how much attention Ertz received from Wentz in 2016 as their relationship strengthened.
First 7 games: 34 targets
Last 7 games: 71 targets
The numbers speak for themselves. With a full offseason working with Wentz as his starting QB, chemistry may have been the final piece of the puzzle that was missing this entire time…and if it is, then it needs to be gently pressed into place once camp rolls around.
The importance of refining timing and continuing to build up that trust for Ertz is absolutely paramount. In terms of what to expect? It will be interesting to see just how much attention he’s paid to by Carson Wentz now that Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have arrived on the scene. All of a sudden, the young signal-caller has an abundance of talent to throw too…which in theory opens up the game for Ertz. But it may also mean that he won’t see as much receiving action as we’re used to, at least as far as Training Camp goes.
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. As Celek enters his second year under Doug Pederson, the veteran has not only taken a pay-cut, but is accepting of his new role that doesn’t see much in the way of targets or receptions.
Celek will still get work with the one’s in camp, that’s a given…but with all the new talent, it will be intriguing to see if he sees much receiving action at all. His role last year was absolutely crucial to the success of Doug Pederson’s Offense…and now the Eagles could even be looking at a different style of rushing, just how active is Celek going to be? Our first insight will come at the dawn of Training Camp.
Burton entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and fourth tight end on the roster. After several seasons of grinding it out on special teams, he was finally handed an opportunity when Zach Ertz went down with injury in week one last year. Showing his athleticism, versatility, and chemistry with Wentz built in the offseason, Burton would go on to record 327 yards that season and score his first ever NFL touchdown. Surprisingly, the Eagles didn’t re-sign Burton to a new contract despite the value he showed. The team instead signed him to a one-year tender, making Training Camp even more important for Burton, knowing that he is playing in his second contract year in as many season’s.
Burton was very much the training camp darling of last season. Making big plays from the word “Go!”, the former Florida Gator was able to do more than just turn heads, striking up quite the rapport with Carson Wentz and showing just how dangerous he can be. He will need much of the same this year if he is to continue to find an increased offensive role under Doug Pederson.
This UDFA out of Shepherd University could be one of the most intriguing players on the roster. Brown possesses the size(6’4 255 LB’s), pure speed, and skillset to be a playmaker for the Birds offense. However, after missing OTA’s with an undisclosed injury, Brown has a lot of work to do.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the Eagles kept four tight ends on the roster…in fact, it’s how Trey Burton first got his special teams opportunity, under the tutelage of James Casey and Brent Celek. But that’s not the only similarity he has to his new teammate.
What makes him such a strong prospect, is his versatility in the pass and run game. He plays a real team-first style and doesn’t shy away from contact. He strives as a run blocker, as he stays with his man and finishes plays, helping open holes for other receivers. With a similar build and a similar skillset to Burton, it’s not completely out of the equation to picture a positional battle emerging.
He followed his 89 receptions,1,492 yards and 10 TD’s, in 2015, with 99 catches, 1,580 yards and a ridiculous 22 TD’s, in the 2016 season. This garnered him All-MEC, First-Team All-Super Region (Division-2) honors, as he was considered one of the best D-2 players in college football.
Can Brown follow in the footsteps of Trey Burton? If he’s going to, it will take something special after missing OTA’s and having to fight from behind.
Under The Radar:
We talk about versatility a lot in this current Eagles regime, especially when it comes to the Offense. Tight end is no exception to that rule, with Burton and Brown being two extremely athletic bodies who can contribute in numerous facets of the game. With the spotlight now away from Ertz, and Celek’s role already marginalized…could we maybe see Pederson use his tight ends in new ways?
We saw the inclusion of 3-TE sets last year in tight rushing spots, while Burton and Ertz were occasionally used in the screen game…but what if the group goes unaccounted for in big-play situations, allowing some sneaky wizardry that Pederson helped to gameplan during his days working with Travis Kelce in Kansas City? Don’t be surprised to see some interesting looks and events during Training Camp!
Things to watch:
The Eagles still don’t have a long-term option at fullback. Pederson previously alluded to the likes of Burton, Beau Allen, and even OL DIllon Gordon fulfilling that role previously…but after the Eagles Head Coach seemed so set on implementing the position last year, it’s strange that the team are still yet to find a solution. Andrew Bonnet was just one of the names who bounced on and off of the Eagles practice squad as Pederson tried to find a solution.
If anybody is in the driving seat to fill that situational spot, it’s Trey Burton…but with Billy Brown having to go the extra mile in order to secure his long-term future, it may be worth keeping an eye on the Shepherd product to see if he has any extra aces up his sleeve that could increases his chances of landing on the final roster. That in itself brings us very neatly to our next point…
Could all four tight ends make the roster?
…it’s happened before. As aforementioned, Burton himself found his footing under James Casey, Zach Ertz, and Brent Celek…something he even opened up on in an exclusive interview with us a few months ago.
“I don’t know if I’d be in the league right now if I didn’t have Celek, Ertz and James Casey in my rookie year. I can’t really describe what they mean to me on and off the field but I owe so much to those guys. For their work ethics, their attitudes and on top of that how they treated me throughout this whole process. Being a fourth tight end doesn’t happen that often in the league, especially an inactive fourth tight end. The encouragement I’ve received from them, the knowledge, the wisdom, the friendship off the field. You’ve got a guy in Celek who is one of the all time greats in Philly, maybe the best tight end Philly has ever had. The way he’s treated me, I have the upmost respect for that guy and would do anything for him. I’m extremely thankful for him.”
Pederson has recently placed a lot of emphasis on development and continuity. With Burton’s long-term future uncertain, and Celek in the latter years of his career…the Eagles have to find an option at tight end who can come in at a moments notice and potentially climb his way up the depth chart…and that may be something that Billy Brown could earn. It might not be the likeliest scenario, but a strong camp from Billy Brown could convince the Eagles to keep all four tight ends on the roster.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports