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A New Definition In Eagles Offense

Posted Mar 28, 2013

We saw it happening year after year, despite suggestions to the contrary. No matter what the Eagles said, the end result was that the traditional role of the fullback in this offense was diminishing ...

The trade on Thursday that sent Stanley Havili to Indianapolis in exchange for defensive end Clifton Geathers in and of itself is not particularly startling: Havili played in 20 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2012 and had all of 13 touches for 65 yards and a touchdown. He clearly wasn’t treated as a huge component in the offense that Andy Reid ran.

Chip Kelly’s offense is to be determined as it unfolds before our eyes, but it’s likely to be an evolving and progressive scheme keeping in line with where the NFL is and where its offensive X’s and O’s are going. The idea of the “old-school” fullback is fading as teams spread the field and incorporate the read/option and demand that their players are more versatile and athletic to better match up against the speed and multiplicity of the league’s defenses.

So, then, say goodbye to the fullback in the Eagles offense. What will be is to be a hybrid player, a weapon on the field rather than, as it was defined in recent seasons, a placeholder used sparingly.

Who isn’t excited about what’s ahead? I mean, this is new territory, uncharted waters, and Kelly’s offensive mind combined with that of Pat Shurmur and what we know from his West Coast offense experience here in his 10-year run with the Eagles leads to tremendous possibilities. The likely upshot of the trade of Havili is this: The Eagles have moved away from having a pure-bred fullback on the roster and instead of having players who bring thunder as a lead blocker and an occasional ball handler, they want explosiveness and versatility.

The central figure in the plan is James Casey, signed as an unrestricted free agent and expected to move around the formation as an athlete and, when called upon, also act as a lead blocker in certain personnel packages and formations.

He is expected to make plays down the field, rather than have a limited role and diminished snap count.

The Eagles – and this is a guess, obviously – could  use one-back sets with LeSean McCoy and, sure, they could have some two-back sets and incorporate Bryce Brown into the backfield with McCoy. In goal line situations, the team could use Casey, a fullback last season with the Texans, as the lead blocker for the halfback. Understanding that Kelly’s creativity and Shurmur’s thinking blended together goes far beyond what I can propose here, the expectations are very high for what this offense will do from a scheme standpoint.

With no “pure” fullback on the roster, the Eagles have some flexibility to keep a third or even a fourth tight end among their prized 53. Brent Celek is the starter here, and he’s a solid in-line blocker, a tough guy, and someone who gains yards after the catch. How much will his role change? Don’t know that. Does Celek move around more in the formation, and displace to get into space against a smaller safety? Do the Eagles envision someone more multiple than Celek playing the position, eventually? To be determined, as is much of the line of questioning here.

It certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for the Eagles to seek more of what they are looking for in the position. And it makes you understand just a little bit more why the reaction was so positive when the team signed Casey in free agency. He moved around in Houston and made the most of his opportunities, and the feeling the Eagles have is that he will increase his productivity with more chances to touch the football – as a tight end, a fullback, an H-back or a slot receiver.

This is the new world in which NFL offenses live. The fullback is no longer in many offenses, replaced by a more athletic player who provides more options. Obviously, we saw this coming. Havili played in 232 snaps in 2012, three fewer than No. 5 wide receiver Damaris Johnson, 122 fewer than backup tight end Clay Harbor and 232 fewer than No. 4 wide receiver Riley Cooper, who played in just 11 games after recovering from a broken collarbone.

As for the trade, time will tell. Geathers is a huge guy at 6 feet 7, 325 pounds. The Eagles are his fifth team since he was taken in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by Cleveland (he also played with Seattle, Dallas and last season with the Colts) and he’s gained strength and weight and has learned about the position as a “five technique” defensive end in a 3-4 front.

The trade is about getting a player the Eagles like in Geathers, and it’s also about a shift in philosophy that we’ve seen coming for years. The fullback position, as we knew it back in the days of Leonard Weaver and Jon Ritchie and even way back when to Kevin Turner and then Cecil Martin, is over. This new NFL order demands more and the Eagles just happen to feel really good about what they have in place with Casey leading the way as the hybrid “Mr. X” in the offense.

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