After Bo Wulf debated whether this would be a breakout season for wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in 2012, let's take a look at what's in store for the tight end position by taking a look at the three biggest questions facing the position group heading into Training Camp ...
1. How Much Of An Impact Will Brent Celek Make?
Brent Celek led the league in yards after the catch per reception in 2011. He's been called the best all-around tight end in the game. Celek finished last year with 62 catches for 811 yards and five touchdowns. What's amazing is that in the first five games of the season, Celek had just one game with more than 13 receiving yards. Of course, the Eagles adjusted to their new offensive line during that time span. Will they have to do the same this year after the loss of Jason Peters? They shouldn't. Demetress Bell is a veteran starter and the rest of the line is intact. Celek accomplished everything he did last year despite needing double hernia and hip labrum surgery at the end of the season. Celek was not expected to be full-go in the spring camps, but he was impressive from the start.
In the last four games of 2011, when quarterback Michael Vick was at his best, Celek had his only 100-yard game of the season and three touchdowns. If Bell can hold down the left tackle position, all signs point to a big year for a healthy Celek.
2. Who Will Be The Backup Tight End?
Of course, a lot of fans have wondered whether the Eagles will emulate the New England Patriots who centered their offense on their two talented tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The reason that the Eagles do not have to utilize that philosophy is because of all of their weapons on the outside. Nonetheless, the Eagles have been looking for a stout one-two punch at tight end since Celek became the starter. Clay Harbor, a fourth-round pick in 2010, has 21 career receptions and has made great strides in improving as a blocker. This was his first full NFL offseason and the Eagles have harped on the small things that will help make Harbor a more consistent receiver. He's got the athletic tools, but he's got to put it all together.
Brett Brackett, who was on the practice squad last year, is an athletic pass-catching tight end who opened eyes during the spring camps and will push Harbor for the backup role. Chase Ford, a rookie free agent from Miami, was a noted blocking tight end in college. It will be much different when the pads go on at Lehigh. Will Harbor shine? Does Brackett have enough strength in his 246-pound frame to handle the rigors of blocking linebackers and ends? Certainly, this is expected to be one of the better battles at camp?
3. Could The Eagles Keep Three Tight Ends?
Certainly, it's possible if Harbor, Brackett and/or Ford shine and make it too tough on the Eagles. But the Eagles haven't kept three tight ends since Mike Bartrum, owner of one of the best touchdown celebrations of the Andy Reid era, was the long snapper. With the depth at defensive line it's hard seeing the Eagles make room for a third tight end? Harbor played in 370 out of 1,095 snaps last season per Pro Football Focus. Special teams will play a big role in this decision. Another potential question could have been whether the Eagles should place more of an emphasis on attacking the middle of the field with the tight ends, seeing how tough it is for smaller cornerbacks and not-as-athletic safeties to defend. But that's a more philosophical question and, again, the Eagles' speed on the perimeter is a premium.
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