Philadelphia Eagles News

Celek: A Perfect Fit For Eagles

Celek is the Rock 'em, Sock 'em robot when he catches the football, except that he has surprising speed and athletic ability for a man who is 6 feet 4, 255 pounds. Celek has 44 catches and 3 touchdowns in the last 9 eight games and his re-emergence in the attack the last couple of weeks -- 9 catches, 195 yards and a touchdown -- have been critical in the team's offensive bounce back.

With 54 receptions, Celek leads the Eagles in receptions, a shocking fact on a team that features DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as premier wide receivers and in light of the 42 catches Celek posted last season.

"I don't care about the stats," Celek said at his NovaCare Complex locker on Tuesday. "I just want to beat Dallas."

Perfect answer. Perfect player in the perfect city to appreciate his skills.

"I think he's the best tight end in the NFL right now," said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. "When you combine his blocking, pass protection and pass-catching ability, he's the whole package. He gets tons of yards after the catch, he's tough and he does it all.

"Rob Gronkowski (New England) and Jimmy Graham (New Orleans) may have the numbers, but they can't block like Celek. I challenge you to try and name a tight end that blocks better than him. There isn't one."

It is high praise, indeed, but there is merit to what Baldinger says. Celek ranks fourth among NFL tight ends with 397 yards, behind only Gronkowski (596), Graham (422) and New England's Aaron Hernandez (406). He is averaging a career-best 7.3 yards after the catch.

"I have no idea what my YAC numbers are," said Celek. "Are they good?"

They sure are, not that it should be all that surprising. The Eagles have loved Celek for a long time as a great fit in the offense.

Following Celek's breakout season in 2009 when he recorded 76 catches, 971 yards and 8 touchdowns, he was heralded as one of the best young tight ends in the league. Celek was a go-to receiver in that offense and the thinking was that he would continue to develop in that role.

But changes along the offensive line in 2010 required Celek to stay in and block in pass protection, and the statistics plummeted last season and early into 2011. Where was Celek in the offense?

He was doing his job and doing it well, thanks to some intensive instruction over the years from tight ends coach Tom Melvin and a daily workout routine that improved Celek's core strength and his ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

As the offensive line came together this season and as the Eagles saw coverages designed to try to take away Jackson and Maclin, Celek saw his opportunities grow again. And he has responded -- 7 catches, 94 yards and a TD against Dallas, 7 catches, 60 yards against Chicago, 6 catches, 60 yards at the Giants and then Sunday's career day when Celek caught 5 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.

Against the Jets, Celek was a punishing force after the catch and he tore off a 73-yard catch and run to set up LeSean McCoy's touchdown run in the third quarter. It was a brilliant, dominating day that again turned the spotlight in Celek's direction.

"It's the same stuff I've been doing," he said. "Even early in the season, when they would call my number, it all depends on the coverages they've given us, too. Earlier, I would say the coverages weren't exactly perfect for the routes I was running. Everything has to work for a play to come your way."

A fifth-round draft pick in 2007, Celek worked hard to develop into what he has become. He is a daily visitor to the weight room during and after the season. He is a student of the game, and you clearly see by his actions after catching a pass and gaining a first down that he is emotionally invested in the game.

In 2007, Celek saw bits and pieces of time playing behind L.J. Smith. In 2008, Celek took over the starting job and then came of age with 10 catches in the NFC Championship Game loss in Arizona.

The tight end job has been his ever since.

"Being a tight end in this system requires you to do more than go out and catch passes," he said. "You have to be a complete player and I've worked hard on that part of my game. I know there were a lot of questions about my blocking early on. I've gotten better but I know there is a new challenge on every play.

"I'm really just into doing whatever I can do to win a game. This week, it's Dallas and that is the focus."

With all of the what-if's and maybe-could-be's going on, Celek insists that the only focus is on the Cowboys. A Giants win over the Jets at 1 p.m. would eliminate the Eagles from the playoff picture. That doesn't matter to Celek, who has his aim on Dallas no matter the other stories.

"They are big rivals of ours and it's going to be a great game," he said. "The only thing that matters is that we beat them. We can't control anything else."

It is the right way to approach Saturday's game, but would you expect anything else from Celek? He's one of those players -- and they don't come along too often -- who lands in the right place with the right team at just the right time.

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