Pass-catching only part of Celek's duties

Posted: June 11, 2014

IF THE ONLY thing you looked at was his receiving numbers, you might conclude - mistakenly, I might add - that Brent Celek didn't have a particularly good season last year.

The Eagles tight end's 32 catches were his fewest since he became a full-time starter in 2009. Twenty-seven tight ends hauled in more passes.

While his six touchdown receptions were the third most on the team, and his four red-zone TDs tied Riley Cooper for the team high, he was targeted only 51 times, which also was the fewest since he became a full-time starter.

But if the only thing you looked at was Celek's receiving numbers, you wouldn't have noticed the solid job he did as a run-blocker last season.

LeSean McCoy became the first Eagles running back in 64 years to win the NFL rushing title, and Celek was every bit as instrumental in that accomplishment as the Eagles' offensive-line quintet.

"I thought last year that I blocked really, really well," said Celek, 29. "But after watching more of the film [after the season], there are a lot of places I can improve.

"I think I can get better at finishing and doing certain things. But overall, it definitely was my best year blocking. But, like I said, I think I can get a lot better. I think I can be one of the best blocking tight ends in the league."

Head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur repeatedly praised Celek's blocking last season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third best run-blocking tight end in the league in 2013, behind only Arizona's Ben Hartsock and Chicago's Dante Rosario.

In today's pass-crazy NFL, many teams don't ask a lot from their tight ends, as far as run-blocking is concerned. But Kelly and the Eagles do.

McCoy's 314 rushing attempts were the most in the league, and the Eagles finished fourth as a team in rushing attempts per game (31.2). They had the sixth highest run-to-pass percentage (47.4 percent) in the league. Don't look for that to change much in 2014.

"You have a job to do on every single play," Celek said. "You need to do it to the best of your abilities. You can either go out there and try to block somebody or you can just say, 'Oh, I'm not going to. I'm just going to worry about catching the ball.'

"I'm going to do the best I can on every single play, no matter what my job is. One thing I think a lot of people don't realize is that when I came into the league [in '07], I was a good blocker. Just getting back into that, getting back to the fundamentals and focusing on it and maturing more and understanding what defensive ends are going to do in certain situations can really help. Because those guys are bigger, stronger. Sometimes faster. You have to have good technique against them."

Celek is one of the toughest and most durable tight ends in the league. He's missed only one game in seven seasons. That was late in 2012 when he had a 93-game playing streak snapped by a concussion.

A year earlier, he racked up 62 catches and 811 receiving yards and led all NFL tight ends in yards after the catch despite playing most of the season with a double sports hernia and a torn hip labrum. Needed surgery after the season to repair both.

But just when it looked as if the game and his hit-me-with-your-best-shot style of play might be starting to take a toll on Celek's body, Kelly and his team of sports science experts walked into his life.

Celek was one of the first Eagles veterans to buy in to the Kelly Wellness Plan last year, and it paid off in a big way. He had an injury-free season - or as injury-free as possible for an NFL player - and made it to January feeling better than he ever had at season's end.

"I just try to work on my body and try to stay injury-free," he said. "It's just something you have to do every day. You can't take any days off. You can't say, 'I did it last year so I can kind of take it easy this year.' You've just got to keep doing it. Get into a routine so that you do it every single day."

Celek played 864 snaps last season. He has logged 860 or more snaps for five straight seasons. Will he make it six straight? We'll see.

Kelly almost certainly will want to increase second-year tight end Zach Ertz' playing time this year.

Ertz, who played 459 snaps as a rookie, isn't as good a blocker as Celek, but is an exceptional receiver whose size-speed combination and route-running ability make him a difficult match-up for defenses.

He came on strong in the second half of last season. Twenty-two of his 36 catches and all four of his touchdown receptions came in the Eagles' last eight regular-season games. He also had a TD in the Eagles' 26-24 playoff loss to the Saints.

The Eagles used two- or three-tight end sets 27.3 percent of the time last season. That percent likely will increase this year as Kelly and Shurmur try to maximize Ertz' pass-catching skills, and still take advantage of Celek's blocking prowess in the run game and production in the red zone.

There's also the matter of getting new weapons such as pass-catching running back Darren Sproles and second-round wide receiver Jordan Matthews on the field.

"When you look at our [skill] personnel all across the field - wide receiver, running back, tight end - we can do a lot of different things," Celek said after yesterday's OTA. "And that's what's exciting. We're able to do a lot of different things with the guys we have. It's just up to Chip as to what he wants to do.

"I'm excited to see where it goes. You never know. We don't have any pads on right now. We're out here going against each other, trying to be smart, trying to stay up [off the ground] and not get too crazy. But I'm excited to see how we're going to be when we get to training camp and start playing in some preseason games. How it all clicks."


On Twitter: @Pdomo


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