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#EaglesCamp Preview: Tight End

Posted Jul 23, 2015

In the days leading up to Training Camp, we will take a look at the most pressing questions facing each position group. Today, we look at the tight ends, a young group with excellent veteran leadership ...

A Look At The Tight Ends
Name Age Exp. Note
Trey Burton 23 2 Key special teams piece; bigger offensive role in '15?
Brent Celek 30 9 As consistent a tight end as you will find in the NFL
Zach Ertz 24 3 Is superstardom the next step? 
Andrew Gleichert 23 R Former college walk-on looks for roster spot
Eric Tomlinson 23 R A blocking-centric rookie and collegiate team captain
Justin Tukes 23 R A hard-nosed, physical presence at the tight end position

1. Could Zach Ertz Move Into Elite Company?

New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Seattle’s Jimmy Graham are head and shoulders above every other tight end in the NFL when it comes to being dynamic playmakers. Gronkowski led all NFL tight ends in receiving yards in 2014 with 1,124, and Graham wasn’t too far behind with 889 yards. Both players have used their size and athleticism to bully defenders and become go-to targets in their respective offenses.

Now, the question on Eagles fans’ minds becomes, "Is Zach Ertz next?"

The 35th overall pick in 2013, Ertz took a huge step forward in his second NFL season, catching 58 passes for 702 yards in 2014, up from 469 yards in his rookie season. What’s especially remarkable about Ertz’s production is that he’s only played in 48 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps in the past two seasons.

When he’s had a chance to shine, he’s taken advantage. But will he receive more playing time in 2015? Ertz received more offensive snaps than fellow tight end Brent Celek in just three games in 2014, with Celek appearing in 69 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps. But as the season progressed, it was clear that Ertz was taking on a larger role in the Eagles' offense. Over the final four-game stretch of the season, Ertz edged out Celek in total offensive snaps (168 to 167), and his historic 15-catch performance (an Eagles record) against Washington in Week 16 was the shining example of what Ertz might be able to accomplish in his NFL career.

At 6-5, 250 pounds, Ertz fits the new prototype of NFL tight ends. Entering his third NFL season, Ertz’s top priority is becoming the best overall tight end that he can be, with a focus on increasing his blocking ability. What will be the next step for the Eagles' promising prospect?

2. Brent Celek Continues To Cement His Legacy

Perhaps no player on the Eagles' current roster better embodies what Eagles fans look for in a player more than Brent Celek. Just ask Chip Kelly.

“I think he's awesome,” Kelly said in October of 2014. “I love the way he approaches everything.  He's got the right demeanor.  He's everything you want.  He's totally selfless.  He's exactly what you want.  When you talk about what a Philadelphia Eagle looks like, Brent Celek is what a Philadelphia Eagle looks like."

Celek enters his ninth season (he's the longest-tenured non-specialist) with the Eagles looking to further position himself as one of the top players in franchise history. He trails only Eagles Hall of Famer Pete Retzlaff on the Eagles' career tight end marks for receptions (344), receiving yards (4,315) and touchdowns (27). Even at age 30, it’s clear that Celek still has a lot of years left of smart, passionate football.

3. A Bigger Role On Offense For Trey Burton?

Trey Burton didn’t have a single catch 2014, yet he still managed to make a huge impression on the Eagles' coaching staff and fans in his impressive rookie campaign. Signed as an undrafted free agent, Burton was deemed as a “do-anything”-type player. At the University of Florida, he saw snaps as a tight end, wide receiver, running back, fullback and even quarterback. As he made his transition to the pro level, that versatility proved to be beneficial for Burton in becoming a key player on the 53-man roster, especially when it came to special teams.

The ability to play special teams is vital for any undrafted rookie looking to catch on in the NFL, and fortunately for Burton, it was an area of his game in which he thrived. He blocked a punt which was recovered for a touchdown against San Francisco and returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown against New York in the regular season finale. For his efforts, Burton earned a spot on the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team as a special teamer.

But with the departure of James Casey (a player who Burton looked up to immensely during his rookie season), will there be a larger role in the Eagles' offense for the versatile weapon? At 6-3, 235 pounds, Burton may not have the ideal size, but he could find a place as a wing-type player in the Eagles' system, coming out of the backfield or lining up anywhere on the formation. Only time will tell whether or not Burton can find his spot on offense, but it’s almost certain that he will once again be a major player on the Eagles' special teams unit.

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