Together, Brent Celek and Jason Avant combined to catch 9 passes for 86 yards in three preseason games. They could very well pass that number by the end of the third quarter in Sunday's game against Green Bay. For the Eagles offense to reach its maximum capability, the passing game must control the middle of the field. And that means that Celek and Avant have to get busy and stay that way.
The Eagles will unveil their "new" offense against the Packers. How truly new it is going to be remains to be seen. Kevin Kolb is the quarterback, of course, but all of the other personnel pieces return from an offense last year that established a franchise record for points scored in a single season. And both Celek and Avant were key reasons for the offensive output. There is certainly the expectation that they could be in for more this time around.
Celek's breakout season was well chronicled. He caught 76 passes, signed a long-term contract and became almost overnight one of the best tight ends in the recent history of the Eagles. Celek has a big body and excellent hands and his ability to run crisp routes and run after the catch have made him a favored target in the offense.
The Eagles will move Celek around in the offense and have full confidence that he will produce in tight spaces. Celek is outstanding in the short- and mid-range passing game. Kolb has total trust in Celek, as do the coaches.
Certainly, as the Eagles look to establish themselves in the red zone, Celek is going to be a primary weapon. He is too big to cover with a safety, and not a lot of linebackers run as well as he does. Celek scored eight touchdowns in 2009 and he was truly a threat no matter where the Eagles had the football.
Avant is the perfect third receiver in this offense. He's tough, he's reliable and he feels good about his role in the passing game, no matter how deeply ingrained into the game plan he is for that certain week. Avant makes a living catching passes in small, tight windows. He is the go-to receiver on third downs here.
During a season in which he caught 41 passes, Avant also had six games in which he caught one or zero passes. It makes sense, then, to get Avant into the offense every week.
Those two players, the muck-and-grime receivers in a glitzy passing game, are so, so important. The Packers are going to pay a lot of attention to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. If there are questions about the Green Bay team, judging by what I read, they involve the secondary. Two starters, cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby, won't play on Sunday. Green Bay has to prove its depth in coverage.
And the Eagles have to find a way to get it done against a tremendous pressure defense that mixes its looks and that controls most teams at the line of scrimmage.
Jackson and Maclin are going to get the headlines. We all know that. But Celek and Avant could be the ones to make the difference.
We have a lot of time to dissect the matchups for Sunday's opener and to talk about the things the Eagles must do to upend the powerful Packers, and often in these kinds of games the somewhat-overlooked players are the ones to step forward. In this case, maybe, it is Celek and Avant who will steal the thunder.
They are huge keys for the Eagles every week. Controlling the hash-to-hash footprint is vital for a team that knows defenses want to take away the vertical passing game.
*NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT *
- The Eagles had Tuesday off and next practice Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. Everyone is expected to practice after the team worked on Sunday and emerged in fine shape. Green Bay also is a healthy team after suffering some nagging injuries in the preseason.
- Andy Reid is 5-6 in regular season openers and the truth is, the opener doesn't generally set the tone for the season to follow. It's a good story and all, but one game is different from every other in an NFL season.
- The Eagles kept two tight ends on the active roster. Hank Baskett would likely be the third tight end if the Eagles had an emergency. The team can also use a "heavy" package in certain short-yardage situations, but who that other blocker would be along with Celek remains to be seen. Baskett, by the way, is listed in front of Riley Cooper on the team's official depth chart.
- Make sure you join us at 11 a.m. Wednesday-Friday for Eagles Live!, presented by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. We're going to celebrate the team's plans to honor the 1960 NFL Champion Eagles and to look ahead to a great, great season-opening game.
- There are 22 players on the 53-man roster now that weren't on the 53-man roster at the end of the 2009 season, a list that includes players like Jamaal Jackson, Stewart Bradley, Ellis Hobbs and Omar Gaither. It was a remarkable off-season for the Eagles and now we find out just how quickly it all comes together for this football team.
- Ricky Sapp underwent successful surgery on his knee and now has a year to rehab, get his body stronger and prepare for another go at this roster next season. I'm not counting him out by any means for the future.