This past offseason, the winds of change swept through the NovaCare Complex. A new coaching staff was brought in, along with new players and a new philosophy of the game based on speed and versatility. As new faces came to town and some veterans moved on to other teams, two cogs of the Eagles offensive machine - Brent Celek and Jason Avant - have stayed in place, and have been key contributors to this season's team.
With a combined 15 years of experience between the pair, it was fair to assume that they might lose a step or get left behind in favor of young players at their respective positions. Instead, Avant and Celek have proven themselves to be leaders in the locker room, as well as on the field.
"They're two of our most dependable, trusted players," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. "They've taken everything that we've done. They've embraced the behind the scenes sports science of getting their bodies right. I kind of go to them typically throughout the week and see how they're feeling. Their leadership behind the scenes has been outstanding. They've been doing a good job on the field as well. They're steady, veteran players that we can all count on."
Avant has embraced his leadership role, but not in the conventional way. When people think about what a leader does for a football team, they may picture the player standing in the middle of the pre-game circle, getting his teammate fired up and ready to go. Avant, on the other hand, allows his actions to speak for themselves.
"I'm not the most vocal person," Avant said. "I think that (you have to) lead by example. When people see you live your life, that kind of gives you a voice to speak with. Guys will come up to you and ask you questions rather than you being a chirper all the time."
Leading by example is exactly what Avant has done as an Eagle. A stalwart at the receiver position, Avant has increased his receptions in each of his seven NFL seasons. Playing in the pivotal slot receiver role, he has emerged as one of the most reliable targets in the league, and he credits his consistency to the coaching that he has had along the way.
"It's something that was taught to me by wide receivers coach (Erik Campbell) in college, (former Eagles wide receivers coach David Culley), and (current wide receivers coach Bob) Bicknell - all of those guys," Avant said. "That's a great compliment to me because that is what I want. I can't control if the ball comes to me, but I can control if I'm open and when it does come to me, I make the best play that I can.
"I try to put the team above myself. I try to put myself in a position that when they call on me, I'm there for them. That's the only thing that you can do as a receiver. If you have the mindset that the ball is coming to you every play or that this is going to be a block that can change the game, you'll go hard every play."
For Celek, this past offseason was one of uncertainty. The Eagles signed James Casey on the first day of free agency and then drafted Zach Ertz in the second round of the NFL Draft. Celek, however, didn't just sit around and contemplate his future. Instead, he spent the offseason getting into tip-top shape, which has drawn the attention of his head coach, Chip Kelly.
"The one guy that has really stepped up throughout anybody on our offensive team has been Brent Celek," Kelly said. "I think Brent has done an outstanding job. He's really practiced at a high level since camp. When you see him on the sideline and you see how fresh he is, I know he's a little bit of an older player in this team, but when I look at Brent on the sideline, I don't know if we have a fresher guy. That's a credit to him, the conditioning he's done."
"I'm just taking care of my body a little bit differently than I have in years past," Celek explained. "(I'm) doing more stretching, more massages and a lot of soft tissue work that I haven't done in the past and I attribute those guys for having me do that, because honestly I really wasn't paying as much attention to that before. I realized the potential of it and doing it now, I realize how good it is for me.
"I think it's helped me a lot in areas like blocking, in being able to get under guys and use better technique and continue to fight against them. The other thing that's good too is that in this system, as you get tired we've got guys that can come in and play extremely well, and that's nice as well. Anytime you get to a point where you feel fatigued, there's a guy ready to come in for you."
It's impossible to tell what the future holds for Avant and Celek, but they aren't worried about that. There is just one thing in particular weighing on their minds.
"I'm here to win football games," Celek said. "Whether that's me out there or somebody else here or there, let's win. I'm working like I want to be out there every single play, but you never know based on what they give us."
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