James Casey has emerged as a crucial cog in the Eagles' run game late in the season. Being used primarily as a blocker might not be the exact role Casey imagined when he signed with the team, but it is one he has come to embrace and cherish.
"It's been a little ironic," Casey said. "When I first came out of college – I had 111 catches one year – I was pretty much just strictly a receiver. Going into the NFL, everyone was questioning if I could block, and I think that hurt me in the draft. Now I've been in the league, this is my fifth year, and I've transformed myself into a very good run blocker and pass protector. I still feel very confident that I can go out there and run routes and do those types of things, but I'm just cherishing my role being a blocker. We have a great running back, a great run game, we have a great offensive line and Brent (Celek) and Zach (Ertz) are both great blockers, too. It's just my job responsibility right now, so I'm trying to do the best job I can at it so I can get more playing time."
Luckily for Casey, he had ample experience as a blocker in a variety of formations while playing for the Houston Texans, so when Chip Kelly came to him with the assignment, it was a natural fit.
"In Houston, I was predominantly a blocker," Casey said. "I was fullback there the last year (in 2012). I would be the prototypical fullback and line up in the I-formation and lead block on linebackers, but I would also motion out to the slot and play a little bit of tight end. I'd play both roles. It's similar to what I've been doing here the last couple weeks, lining up in the wing formation as a tight end but motioning across the formation or coming across on the snap. That's pretty much the same thing as being a fullback, except you're just doing it from the wing position instead of out of the backfield. All the work I've been doing on blocking, it's paid off and hopefully I can continue to get better at it."
As the Eagles have begun to institute the split zone as a staple in the run game with Casey blocking across the formation, his playing time has increased. Over the last four games, he's seen his snap count steadily rise, except for against the Minnesota Vikings, when the Eagles opted to attack through the air.
Against the Detroit Lions, Casey played 22 snaps (29 percent of total offensive snaps), against the Bears he played 30 snaps (47 percent), and against the Cowboys he played 28 snaps (42 percent). The Eagles' rushing totals against the Lions, Bears and Cowboys were 299, 289 and 137 yards, respectively.
"It was when we played Detroit in the snow, we started doing (the split zone) a lot," Casey said. "Since then, we've kept doing it and I've been getting more and more playing time as a blocker, and we've been running the ball really well these last couple games."
We know how much Kelly and his coaching staff like to install new wrinkles to build off formations and plays that have worked, and perhaps Casey's emergence as a blocker can be parlayed into some opportunities as a receiver when the defense is expecting him to block.
Casey is the kind of player who personifies what this Eagles team has been about in 2013. He'll do whatever it takes to get on the field and help the team win, even if it means performing the dirty work and sacrificing his own individual glory.