This is the new NFL revolution, the way the Eagles are using their tight ends. They have not one, but two and if they wanted, three, tight ends who can take a defense and literally turn it inside out.
"I think we're all in unison. That's the goal," said second-year tight end Zach Ertz. "We want to operate the offense as efficiently and effectively as possible. I think, between the three of us, we all complement each other."
The "three of us" are Brent Celek, Ertz and James Casey. Their games are all similar in what they are capable of doing, and so brilliantly different in what they are sometimes asked to do. Understand that, for example, the Eagles can't utilize a tight end who can block, but is unable to run and catch the football, or have a tight end who busts a coverage down the seam but isn't a positive force on the field as an in-line blocker.
A tight end has to have a total skill set in this offense. And the Eagles have three of them and the coaching has taken the best of what each player does to create a promising symmetry that is as central to the scheme as any personnel grouping.
Celek is the veteran force, the ultra-tough guy who someday will go down as one of the best in franchise history. He's worked so hard over the years to make himself a strong blocker to help in the running game and in pass protection, and at the same time continues to find cracks and crevices in defensive coverage to make himself a reliable target for quarterback Nick Foles.
Of the three, Celek is the most "traditional" tight end for a position that has morphed over the years. Today's tight end is more defined as a receiver proportioned to tower over defensive backs and to run past linebackers. Celek is 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds and he is still capable of big gains, but in his eighth season Celek is properly called a "move-the-chains pass catcher."
Ertz, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, fits the modern-day description of the tight end the most of the three. He came into his own late in his rookie season and has clearly taken it up a notch in Year No. 2. He's got six receptions for 86 yards in the preseason, and could be on his way to a huge year in 2014. With his speed and the way he runs his routes and his hands and large "catch radius," Ertz is a logical candidate for "most improved" player in this offense.
Casey is the third piece of the tight end puzzle, and a valuable one when the Eagles call his number. He can line up in tight, can split out in the formation, and can be used as a fullback to lead block in short-yardage situations. In simplest terms, Casey is the Eagles' version of an H-back, a combination of a tight end and a fullback. He also happens to be a standout on special teams, one of Dave Fipp's core players.
"We feel good about our tight ends, and we play one and two tight ends quite a bit," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. "We feel like we've got guys there that can play all the way through the unit. So it gives us flexibility. Then that factors in, too, if you have more or less receivers.
"Our guys are somewhat interchangeable in terms of where we can play. We can call a concept. We can call a three-by-one (three receivers on one side of the formation, one receiver on the other side of the formation) concept, and there could be one tight end in it, two tight ends, or three tight ends and they learn what the route is based on the concept. So, yeah, we'll do that. As we start to focus more on game planning and attacking certain things, then that will be something that we would consider."
Said Celek: "We're all very versatile. We need to help lead this team, so the more we can do and offer the coaches, the more they can create good matchups."
This is an offense that has a lot of options, just the way the coaching staff desires. Running back LeSean McCoy is the foundation and the Eagles showed last season just how devastating the running game can be with McCoy leading the way. Having depth at wide receiver will provide a lot of flexibility with personnel packages and formations. Then there is the tight end position and the wealth of talent the Eagles have on the roster. Look for the coaching staff to maximize the skill sets of Celek and Ertz and Casey to open up the field for the passing game and to aid a running attack that seeks even more success in 2014.
"I think we can do a lot of things, based on the opponent," said Ertz, who knows each position and every receiving route and formation and variation in the offense. "The coaches do a great job putting us in the right places on the field and we have to make the plays. It's exciting how well we work together and feed off of each other."
Keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Ertz's development was stunted last season when he missed all of the Organized Team Activities after the draft until his Stanford class graduated, but he's made a rapid rise having mastered the X's and O's from top to bottom. Celek and Casey are far more ingrained in the scheme in its second season.
We've gotten a taste in this preseason of just how vital the tight ends are going to be in the offense this season. The best, starting in September, is yet to come.