Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Tight End

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Tight End

We continue our training camp preview by breaking down the Eagles at the tight end position, which figures to be a much more prominent part of the offense under Chip Kelly.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Offensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Is Brent Celek being phased out of the Eagles’ offense?

Not yet he isn’t. Initially things weren’t looking so great for Celek after the Eagles went out and signed free agent James Casey and drafted Zach Ertz in the second round (No. 35 overall), but there should be more than enough snaps to go around.

He might not be on the field for 75% of the plays like he used to under Andy Reid, however Celek still possesses plenty of value. He brings a slightly different skill set to the party than the other two – more proven as a vertical threat than Casey, who recorded a career high with 330 yards receiving last season, not to mention Celek is a capable blocker unlike Ertz, who is described as needing work in that aspect of his game.

It’s not like Celek is old – he’s 28, and Casey is actually older by eight months – plus while his contract allows the team to dump him after this season, his 2014 salary of $4 million is not an excessive figure for a player who’s averaged 59 catches, 744 yards, and 4.5 touchdowns over the past four seasons. Those aren’t quite Pro-Bowl numbers, but they’re certainly solid.

They’re also far better than what Casey or Ertz have ever produced in the NFL. With tight end becoming a focal point in the Eagles’ offense, Chip Kelly may eventually want an upgrade over Celek, but it’s not like decent receiving tight ends that can also block a little bit grow on trees. Expect him to thrive for at least another season or two, and don’t be surprised if he’s here longer.

Exactly what does James Casey bring to the table?

A little bit of everything. To the casual observer with a tendency to focus on statistics, Casey would not appear to be a very major signing at all. He recorded new personal bests with 34 receptions, 330 yards, and three touchdowns on the Houston Texans last season, which are essentially replacement-level totals.

Casey, who signed for three years/$12 million, figures to be featured more prominently in Chip Kelly’s scheme, although he won’t necessarily shatter those career numbers. Jimmy Kempski of Blogging the Beast once called him a Swiss army knife H-back. He has the size (6-3, 240) and athleticism to run a route and haul in a pass, but he can move around the formation and block on the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. He can be a lead blocker in the running game, or even take a handoff himself.

A fifth-round pick in ’09, Casey isn’t suddenly going to break the mold. He may never get the accolades or the trips to Honolulu. This is a gritty player though, one who will perform many different duties at an adequate-to-above-average capacity. The Eagles needed more players who were willing to do the dirty work, and it appears they found a good one in Casey.

What should we expect from Zach Ertz in his rookie season?

Don’t go overboard. If all goes according to plan, Ertz could eventually develop into one of the most dangerous weapons on the team, but there is reason to believe he could be brought along slowly as a rookie.

For one, as was already touched on, Ertz isn’t supposed to be much of a blocker. That’s no small detail, as blocking is typically a fairly large part of the job description for most tight ends. Guys can get away with being more receiver-inclined when they’re putting up big numbers, but Ertz is starting from the bottom, so he’ll likely have to improve that aspect of his game to earn the trust of the coaching staff.

There’s also no rush to get the Stanford product on the field. Celek is a fine tight end, and Casey’s role will be a little more unique. Add in the fact that Ertz may have fallen a little behind after missing some of the Birds’ offseason programs (by NFL rule), and you can begin to understand why expectations should be kept in check.

The one area where I could see Ertz making an immediate impact is inside the red zone. The Eagles have struggled down by the goal line for what seems like an eternity, and Ertz has the size (6-5, 249) and athleticism to create match-up problems for defenses. He could easily lead the club’s tight ends in touchdown catches this season.

Can Clay Harbor make the team?

Outlook not great, but yeah, he has a chance. The writing is usually on the wall whenever a head coach starts asking a depth player like Harbor to try out on the opposite side of the ball. Not to make too much of Harbor getting a look for one day at outside linebacker, but given the rather crowded field of tight ends, he was already considered to be on the fringe at best.

That said, he’s not out the door just yet. His job depends first on how many tight ends Chip Kelly decides to carry on his 53-man roster. If the number is four (or higher), Harbor might have the inside track to the final spot. He plays on special teams, which will be a must here, is a willing blocker, and you can do worse in terms of an athlete.

The Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Harbor out of tiny Missouri St. in 2010, and while he’s likely past ever realizing potential as a pass-catching threat, the 26 year old has some tools to work with. He’ll face some competition from Derek Carrier and Will Shaw, and there’s no guarantee Chip keeps more than three, but Harbor’s got a fighting chance.

Will tight end replace wide receiver in the Chip Kelly’s system?

Replace is probably too strong of a word. One thing is for certain though, and that is we never would have been able to come up with five questions exclusively about tight ends during the Andy Reid era. This one comes about from a piece by Dan Klausner for Bleeding Green Nation in which the writer suggested soon there would not be any differentiation between receiver and tight end in the Eagles’ system.

Anybody can plainly see tight end is going to be a focal point of the offense based on the front office’s aggressive pursuit of Casey and Ertz during the offseason. Casey was a day-one signing in free agency, while a second-round pick for Ertz was a luxury some analysts suggested the Eagles couldn’t afford to use on the position. The NFL as a whole might be trending increasingly toward tight-end powered offenses as well after seeing what the New England Patriots have done the last couple seasons. These guys are typically all 6-3 or taller and in excess of 250-lbs., so putting two or even three of them on the field at the same time creates match-up problems in both the passing and running games.

What if all of a team’s skill players looked like that? The Eagles did attempt to add size to their receiving corps, trading for Arrelious Benn(6-2)  and giving Ifeanyi Momah (6-7) a shot.

Wide receiver will always be prevalent however because speed kills. A player with DeSean Jackson’s 4.3 burners – rare in general, rarer for a big man – on the outside stretches the field. An elusive player such as Damaris Johnson can run free out of the slot without getting pressed at the line of scrimmage, and slip into openings in the coverage much more quickly. It seems foolish not to try and utilize all of that. That makes the offense more dynamic/flexible.

So while tight end figures to be a central part of the game plan on Sundays much more heavily than ever before and increasingly so, it’s not like the wide receiver position is going extinct in Philly.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter.

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Ryan White was whisking by to the visiting locker room when he had to stop.
With huge delight, the long-haired forward hugged a Flyers employee in bright orange athletic gear standing outside the laundry room. 
The two exchanged hellos and good wishes before White’s path was impeded again.
None of this was a nuisance. This is what he loved.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I miss here in Philly is the people around the rink are great,” White said late Thursday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. “The guys from the locker room attendants to the security guys to people taking care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. It’s a special place to play and I always felt like I was welcomed here.”
White had just scored his first goal of the 2016-17 season. All offseason, he hoped and planned for the occasion to be in a Flyers sweater. He talked about his endearment for the organization trumping the worth of money elsewhere.
But on Thursday night, he was wearing an Arizona Coyote uniform and, what he called, “putting the final nail in the coffin” of a 5-4 loss for the Flyers.
“It feels good scoring here,” he said.
Not at all how he pictured it.
Playing fourth-line minutes (8:09), White somehow snuck a shot past Steve Mason from a nasty side angle with 4:19 remaining in regulation, making it 5-3 and virtually snuffing another Flyers comeback bid.
“Any time you’re coming back playing your old club, you want to make sure you get a win. … I loved playing as a Flyer, it was a lot of fun playing here,” White said. “Guys over there are a great group of guys, good coaching staff, good people in the organization. It’s just a special place to play.”
It’s where White wanted to be but he holds no ill will towards general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers. Hextall liked and expressed interest in re-signing White, a role-playing fourth-liner, but went out and inked free-agent right winger Dale Weise (four-year, $9.4 million deal), more of a third-line player with similar attributes.
That signaled White’s end with the Flyers after two seasons.
“I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to come back here, it just didn’t work out,” White said. “I’m just happy I’ve gotten a chance to play in Phoenix and it’s been pretty good so far.”
White on Wednesday night caught up with former Flyers teammates Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth. While with the Flyers, he lived in the same building as the two. They all had dinner and White got to visit Gudas’ baby daughter.
On the ice, White, gritty and physical-minded, made his presence felt. He was penalized in the second period for charging Nick Cousins. He was also called for a delay of game penalty in the final two minutes for closing his hand on the puck. The Flyers scored on the power play, ironically turning White’s goal into the gamer-winner.
“He told me he just wanted the winning goal,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh. “So that’s all that counts.”
White enjoyed the rough-and-tough nature against his old friends. 
“All those guys play hard, they know how the game goes,” he said. “I had a little conversation with Gudy last night at dinner and he said, ‘You’re going to be running around out there.’ I figured it would be no other way. You’ve got to expect that coming from those guys, they’re a hard group over there.
“Those guys know how I play and they all play the same way, too, so it was fun.”
He also appreciated seeing the Flyers Heritage Night pregame ceremony honoring the organization’s legends, led by late founder Ed Snider. White kept tabs on the Flyers’ home opener last week when a banner commemorating Snider was raised to the rafters.
“I even heard about the first game coming back, it was pretty emotional in here,” he said. “It was a pretty special time playing here with Mr. Snider around. I think he’ll obviously be forever missed and like I said, it was just special to be a part of it.”
White wasn’t sure what to expect in his return. In the end, he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s funny, I thought maybe coming back here, it would be a little bit different,” White said. “But they’re a pretty welcoming group and it’s nice to be here.”
Even if it’s just for one game.

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

When he was introduced at center ice Thursday night, Rod Brind’Amour, who epitomizes what it meant to be a Flyer perhaps like no other player in franchise history, acknowledged the crowd.
And then the current Carolina assistant coach walked over to former teammate Eric Lindros and hugged him.
There were indeed some awkward moments for the two back in the 1990s, but they remain Flyers forever and this was Heritage Night for the organization’s Hall of Famers in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
“You know I haven’t seen him in forever, and it was just fun and when we got out there we just said, ‘nice to be back on the ice again’, it’s been a long time and I haven’t seen him,” Brind’Amour explained of the gesture toward Lindros. 
“I saw Johnny [LeClair] last year but it was just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories, we had a lot of great times so it was nice to see him.”
How ironic that Brind’Amour would get traded to Carolina for a larger centerman in Keith Primeau and eventually after the pain of separation from the Flyers womb had healed, he won a Cup with the Hurricanes.
Ask Roddy and he’ll tell you that Cup should have been won in Philly. He began the season as a member of the 1999-00 team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but was traded at the mid-point.
To this very day, it ranks all-time as the most controversial trade the Flyers ever made. As if the very soul of the organization had been purged.
“Well I mean that’s the way it goes, right?” Brind’Amour said. “We had a great team. We had a great team back then, but trades happen and they were trying to make the team better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but had we stayed together who knows what could have happened.
“I’m just fortunate that I got that Cup because obviously, that is what I played for my whole life. Would it have been great to have it here? Yes, I mean that would have been something special, but that’s life. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t win because we were one of the best teams in the league there for a long time and things just didn’t work out. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup, let me tell you.”
He admitted there’s an orange ‘n black spot in his heart that will forever belong to the Flyers. That’s why he interrupted his own season in Carolina to return here for one night of memories.
He also said how much it meant to him last spring when club chairman Ed Snider reached out to him shortly before his death.
“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. 
“It meant a lot. So I really feel connected to the Flyers' organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back here and be a part of it.
“It has meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold. I love the alumni … so, any chance to get to reconnect with these guys means the world to me.”
Which is pretty much how Flyers fans felt about him, too.