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Brent Celek needed the offseason. Maybe more than most. Last year did not go well for the Eagles. You probably noticed. Celek certainly did.
Throughout the season, while the Eagles were getting dismantled by almost every team on their schedule, and while other players made excuses and tried to explain the failure away as some sort of strange mystic mishap beyond their control, Celek stood up for all of them and took the heat. He did that quite a bit. He did it when few others would.
“The taste we had in our mouths last year, it was bad,” Celek said earlier this week at the NovaCare Complex. “It’s definitely a new start. It’s refreshing.”
He is 28 now. This will be his seventh NFL season. To hear the tight end tell it, he is getting old. Celek talked about taking “care of my body a little bit differently than when I was younger.” He said he’s “got to stretch more” and “get more massages” because “you just don’t recover as you used to.”
“It’s something I’m learning,” Celek said, “and it’s something I’m going to have to do if I’m going to keep playing.”
That is part of it, yes. Celek will have to take care of himself if he wants to keep playing. (Among other injuries, he suffered a concussion late last season that caused him to miss the Week 15 game against the Bengals, and a year ago he had sports hernia surgery.) But he will also have to play well if he wants to keep playing. Because, as he noted, Celek isn’t as young as he once was – and his name doesn’t look quite so dominant on the depth chart, either.
For years Celek was the main tight end cog while many of the other Eagles at his position were essentially spare parts salvaged from various NFL scrap yards (and then later returned to the discard heap). That doesn’t appear to be the case under Chip Kelly. The new Eagles' head coach has talked openly about the multi-tight end sets he used at Oregon and plans to deploy in Philly.
“Any time you have three tight ends on the field or two tight ends, the defense has to pick whether they want to put an extra linebacker or an extra [defensive back],” said Celek, who was 10th among tight ends in yards and 12th in receptions in 2012. “I think you can get mismatches based on that … you’ve got bigger guys. If they want to put a [defensive back] on you, you can run the ball. If they want to put a linebacker on you, you can throw the ball.”
The Eagles currently have seven tight ends on the roster: Celek, Emil Igwenagu, Will Shaw, Clay Harbor, James Casey, Derek Carrier and Zach Ertz. That last name is the most interesting for obvious reasons.
Ertz is 6-5, 250 pounds, and he was an All-American selection during his junior year at Stanford. Ertz had 898 receiving yards in 2012, which led all Stanford pass catchers and all FBS tight ends. He also grabbed 69 receptions, which tied him for the most among FBS tight ends. He was highly regarded coming out of college, which is why the Eagles took him in the second round (35th overall) in this year’s draft.
If it seems to you that the Eagles have lined up their tight end of the future in the same way the Phillies have lined up Ryne Sandberg as their manger of the future, you aren’t alone in that thought process. That doesn’t mean Ertz is guaranteed to become a quality tight end, and it doesn’t necessarily mean Celek will move on in the near future. It simply means that NFL teams tend to have succession plans in place.
Celek is a bright guy. He knows nothing lasts forever. When he was asked about the influx of tight ends, one of whom was highly drafted, he acknowledged that the NFL is “a business.” But he also didn’t seem too worried about his job security in the short or long term. Where multiple tight ends once spelled doom for one or several players on a roster, the NFL has changed its attitude toward the position over the last few years.
“You have to give credit to [Rob Gronkowski] and [Aaron] Hernandez and what they’ve done for the tight end position,” Celek said about the New England Patriots. “You can have two great tight ends, use them efficiently, and win a lot of games. I think they’ve kind of helped change the position with the things they’ve done.”