On a day that Rueben Randle met the media and the talk was all about the Eagles' wide receivers, the position of tight end and the importance of those players need to be part of the conversation.
If you believe in coaching history, you believe that Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton and Chris Pantale are going to have many opportunities to get the football in their hands a lot in the spring and summer as head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich find out the right fits for the offense. A peek back at 2015 reveals a sense of what might be in store for the tight ends in 2016.
- Pederson, the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, helped send Travis Kelce to the Pro Bowl. Kelce caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns and was a go-to weapon in Kansas City's passing game. Kelce moved around the formation and gained the upper hand in matchups and the Chiefs threw it his way to keep the chains moving and to gash defenses vertically in the passing game.
- Reich, the offensive coordinator in San Diego, missed Antonio Gates for four games as Gates served an NFL suspension, but then incorporated Gates into the pass-heavy offense for 11 games as Gates caught 56 passes for 630 yards and five touchdowns. Gates, of course, has been a dominating player for a decade-plus, and Reich used Gates as a pass receiver at the tight end position.
- Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, the offensive coordinator in Cleveland last season, turned Gary Barnidge into a Pro Bowl player who caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns after Barnidge had caught just 44 total passes in his previous six NFL seasons.
Those three bright offensive minds can now collaborate and make something special for the Eagles at the tight end position. Ertz, of course, has gotten better and better in his three seasons as an Eagle and last season caught 75 passes for 853 yards. Ertz can line up anywhere in the formation and run past linebackers and can use his 6-5, 250-pound frame to win the battle against cornerbacks and safeties. While Ertz can be a target in the vertical passing game, Celek is more of a move-the-chains kind of pass catcher these days, in addition to helping the running game with his blocking.
Burton is an interesting player to watch after learning the position under the tutelage of tight ends coach Justin Peelle. Burton has been outstanding on special teams, but he's also got some game as a tight end. He'll compete with Pantale, who spent 2013-14 with the Jets and was on the Eagles' practice squad last season. He's 6-5 and 254 pounds, so we'll see how much he fits into what Pederson is looking for at the position.
Pederson could use some three-tight end formations at times to create the best matchups and he'll have a lot of variety in his personnel packages. The tight ends are going to be a big part of things. Pederson saw the impact Kelce made for a Chiefs offense that lost its best player in Jamaal Charles and the head coach is going to want to take advantage of the depth of talent at tight end here.
A lot of people are wondering about this wide receiver group and its lack of experience and proven, front-line talent. It's fair to ask the questions. We're all going to watch receivers coach Greg Lewis work with his young room and push them for improvement.
But keep an eye on the tight ends, too, because that group is going to play a major part in the offense and everything the Eagles do. We've seen how tight ends have become all the rage in the NFL -- it's a Gronk World, in many ways -- and the Eagles have the depth and the talent to create something unique at tight end working within the offense in so many ways.