“This is the greatest city to play for in the NFL,” a beaming Celek told reporters on Friday. “To be able to really stay anywhere the length of your career I think is absolutely amazing, so the fact that I’ve been able to do it here is wonderful.”
Celek was born in Cincinnati, a town with similar blue-collar roots to the city he adopted as a pro. He went to high school there and later attended the University of Cincinnati, where he was named the most outstanding member of the Bearcats as a senior in 2006. He had never been to Philadelphia before the Eagles selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, but he quickly fell in love with the city as a rookie.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Celek had never seen the type of passion surrounding professional football that he experienced in his first season in Philadelphia. The enthusiasm of the fan base won him over almost immediately, and by the time he became the team’s full-time starter in his third season his own energetic style of play had already made him a fan favorite.
“I’m so happy for (Zach), and I’m happy for our whole tight end group, the fact that we can stay together and play another year,” he said. “Whether I’m playing tight end, playing special teams, whatever it is, I’m going to do everything I can to be the best that I can.”
Because of limitations set forth in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL Players Association, team coaching staffs can’t communicate with their players about on-field matters until later in the offseason. But despite that, Celek has a leg up in terms of preparing to play in Coach Pederson’s system, having worked within it from 2007-12. Andy Reid was the Eagles’ head coach then, with Pederson serving as the team’s offensive quality control coach and later as its quarterbacks coach over the final four seasons of Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia.
But it’s not just Celek’s understanding of Pederson’s terminology and schematic wrinkles that will help him next season. He also feels that he and the rookie head coach have already established the foundation for a great working relationship.
“I knew Doug quite well,” Celek said of his relationship with Pederson during his first stint as a coach with the Eagles. “I would talk to him a lot about scheme and what he was thinking, because he was a quarterback in the league. He totally understands everything a player goes through, the X's and O's, what players are thinking on certain plays against certain coverages. I like Doug a lot. I think he’s going to be a great leader for us, and he definitely understands football.”
As the Eagles look to rebound from a disappointing 2015 season, Celek remains confident about the state of the team moving forward. Since arriving in Philadelphia in 2007, he’s experienced just two playoff victories, both of which came in his sophomore season, and above all else, the veteran tight end wants to be able to say he helped bring the ultimate prize to the city before he hangs up his cleats for good.
“I think we’ve got a great group of guys, and we’ve got a team that can definitely win now, and we need to win now,” he said. “I love this organization, and the only thing I can do is do everything in my power to give it back to them. We’re going to work our butts off and try to bring a championship back to Philadelphia.”