With Zach Ertz sidelined for the preseason after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury, the Eagles will need to look no further than tight end Trey Burton and their trio of undrafted rookies to step in, fill the void and gain valuable playing experience. Burton, a core member of last season's special teams group, has already been working to prove himself as an offensive weapon for the Eagles this year. Now, with his teammate down, the opportunity to showcase his talents has only grown larger.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get out there," Burton said. "I'm expecting more opportunities during the preseason, especially because Zach's out, but whatever the coaches give me, I'm ready for it."
During the 2014 preseason Burton finished second on the team in receiving with 100 yards, behind only Jordan Matthews. It was clear he could make an impact for the Eagles, but as a first-year player, Burton's true role centered moreso around special teams than the tight end position.
Nevertheless, the Florida product proved he was a force to be reckoned with. He garnered seven special teams tackles throughout his rookie season and blocked a punt against San Francisco that was returned for a touchdown by a teammate, marking the first time that type of play happened for the Eagles since 1992. He also recorded his first NFL touchdown against the Giants in a similar manner after he picked up a blocked punt.
Rookie Eric Tomlinson is looking to follow in Burton's footsteps in terms of special teams aspects. He feels showcasing his abilities in that area may be the difference-maker come time for the final roster decisions.
"All throughout college, all four years, I played there," Tomlinson said. "I was on two special teams. I've been around special teams for a while. That's where I'm trying to do my best at right now."
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With Burton now sliding into the spot behind Brent Celek and taking on an increased role during the preseason, the third and fourth tight end spots will be filled by Tomlinson and fellow rookies Justin Tukes and Andrew Gleichert. With such a big opportunity, all three players are looking to make an impression.
"When one of our players is down, somebody has to step up," Tukes said. "I feel like whether it's any of us undrafted tight ends, me or Andrew Gleichert or Eric Tomlinson, one of us has to step up and take care of that position until the big man (Ertz) comes back."
In the meantime, all three feel comfortable with this offensive system due to the experience gained during Training Camp. Tomlinson specifically noted an increase in his reps, something he will continue to take advantage of if it continues throughout the preseason.
However, the biggest source of knowledge for all three rookies has been the guidance of Celek, Ertz and Burton during this process. Each player has taught the first-year trio a number of techniques and the importance of staying focused. These rookies feel more than prepared for what is to come in the following weeks.
"I've learned so much from those three guys just in techniques," Gleichert said of Celek, Ertz and Burton. "They can put another perspective on technique or something that may click in my brain a little better."
Tukes has had the same experience with the veterans. The knowledge he has gained from his teammates is helping him to become a smarter, stronger player.
Ultimately, taking and successfully using the advice given will help shape the preseason performances of the three.
"There's bit and pieces I've learned from each and every one of them," Tukes said. "Celek, footwork. He's really big on footwork, quick feet, get your foot in the ground. Trey Burton, I've learned to stay focused on the ball, keep focused on your assignment, stay focused on what you have to do. Ertz is just different techniques with running routes, being able to communicate throughout the game with your other teammates. Those three pieces have and those three guys in the room have helped me a lot, helped my game grow a lot more."
At the end of the day, when Ertz returns for the regular season, only one spot on the roster will remain for these rookies. The coming weeks will not only determine who fills that role, but it will also showcase whether or not Burton is prepared to expand his role this season.
One thing is certain. Following the preseason, the Eagles' coaches will have much to evaluate at the tight end position.