When Chip Kelly assumed the Philadelphia Eagles‘ head-coaching throne 2 years ago, many assumed that the offense would emulate the Patriots’ prolific tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, the emphasis on two Tight End sets never really manifested itself in Philadelphia, and has remained more of an accent in the Chip Kelly offense ever since. Still, Tight End has proven to be a key cog in the Eagles’ offensive machine. Each player brings a unique skill set to the team, and fits important roles both on and off the field. While it’s unlikely that the Tight End group sees significant change in way of the team’s depth chart, roles and usage remain influx, and there may be room for a 4th man on the back end of the roster.
There is perhaps no man on the roster who stands to gain more this training camp than the former Standford Cardinal, Zach Ertz. Ertz was criminally underutilized in 2014, ceding a healthy amount of the offensive snaps to a much less effective Brent Celek. Though it is understandable that Kelly prefers the more polished vet — mainly because he has been the superior blocker — it’s frustrating to see such a young and talented player lose snaps to an aging and declining one. The bottom line is, Ertz is an incredibly skilled player, and at just 24 years old, he still has much room to grow.
Though he does not possess break-neck speed or incredible physical strength, there isn’t much that Zach Ertz does not excel at as a pass catcher. In his brief time in the NFL, Ertz has developed into one of the games finer route runners, continually finding ways to get open. Simply put, Ertz is a technician. The finer points of his game are developed well beyond his years, and he possesses a skill set that allows him to win in a variety of ways. Whether that be in the red zone, as a chain mover, at catch point, on the line, or in space, Ertz always competes. Despite this, Ertz still had the drive and presence of mind to seek additional help this offseason, further polishing an already impressive repertoire, and hopefully improving his blocking.
*As an aside, this is the kind of commitment that is reflective of Kelly’s emphasis on the growth mindset. Hopefully it bears fruit, particularly in Ertz’s case.
Going into his 3rd season, and with Brent Celek yet another year older, Ertz should have the leg up on his competition. At some point, Ertz’s far superior ability as a receiving option should outweigh his rawness as a blocker. Last season he averaged an impressive 12.1 yards per catch. As a point of reference, other prominent Tight Ends such as Greg Olsen (12.0 ypc), Jimmy Graham (10.5 ypc), and Julius Thomas (11.4 ypc), all fell short of Ertz’s numbers. While this doesn’t paint a complete picture, it emphasizes Ertz’s ability as a field stretcher, while still being a formidable chain-mover who, last season, converted 42 first downs on 58 receptions (4th highest % in the NFL among TE’s with 50 plus receptions).
Should Ertz see an expanded role in 2015, a 75/950/9 line should be within reach. Unfortunately, as things stand, Ertz remains second fiddle to Celek, who the staff views as the more complete player. Ertz must show that he has significantly improved as an inline blocker to steal snaps from Celek. Training camp will provide an invaluable opportunity for the young Tight End to prove to the coaching staff that he is ready for a full-time role. Hopefully Ertz rises to the occasion, as he has the ability to become a focal point of the Eagles’ offense in 2015 and beyond.
Long time starter and incumbent, Brent Celek, is the epitome of the blue-collar type grinder and leader that resonates so deeply in the city of Philadelphia. A player described by Chip Kelly himself as “What a Philadelphia Eagles looks like,” Celek has done everything the team has asked of him and then some during his time in Philly. Still, it’s hard to ignore his decline as a pass catcher, and with the team breaking in an incredibly young corp of Wide Receivers, it might be best to make the transition from Celek to Ertz sooner rather than later. As previously mentioned, however, the staff seems stubbornly intent on rolling with Celek, who Kelly has referred to as the league’s best blocking Tight End. It’s clear that Kelly values Celek more than fans and the media, but even so, spelling Ertz with Celek, as opposed to the inverse, seems to be the much wiser move at this point. Regardless, Celek remains atop the depth chart heading into training camp, though it appears that his fate could be in the hands of Zach Ertz, should he show marked improvement as a blocker.
On the heels of the departure of James Casey, Trey Burton will continue to push for playing time, likely in the form of a small offensive role. Burton is a player that the staff is likely very high on, as his versatility allows him to be deployed in a multitude of ways. Burton, however, doesn’t even need to make a mark offensively as he proved to be a standout special teamer in 2014, contributing several splash plays. Heading into TC, Burton has the 3rd TE spot all but sewn up. His role as a key special teamer and versatile offensive piece provides the team with a valuable asset. While it is possible that one of the UDFA Tight Ends make a push for a roster spot, it’s improbable that his roster spot is in any danger.
Outside of the aforementioned three, there aren’t many compelling options on the backend of the roster. UDFAs Eric Tomlinson, Justin Tukes, and Andrew Gleichert failed to distinguish themselves during minicamp and OTAs, however, they will still have every opportunity to push for a roster spot in TC. If any of these players do find a way to latch on, it will undoubtedly be as a core special teams player. What’s tricky there is that not only will they be competing among themselves, but against other players on the roster who will also be vying for that last teams’ spot. The team can get that special teams production from several position groupings, so convincing Chip Kelly and Dave Fipp that they are invaluable to the unit will be key.
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