Burton embodies versatility

ASSOCIATED PRESS Trey Burton, an undrafted tight end out of Florida, is a big fan of Chip Kelly's offense.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Trey Burton, an undrafted tight end out of Florida, is a big fan of Chip Kelly's offense.
Posted: June 17, 2014

ONCE THE SEVENTH and final round of the NFL draft concludes each spring, it's typically interesting to learn which undrafted free agents the Eagles are bringing in for training camp. There's usually a good story or two among them, perhaps a kicker with a unique nickname or a former star running back who overcame extreme medical odds to earn a pro contract.

But of the 15 undrafted rookies the Eagles signed after last month's draft, there is perhaps none a more intriguing prospect in Chip Kelly's system than Trey Burton, the multifaceted tight end from the University of Florida. Burton will enter camp likely on the outside looking in regarding a 53-man roster spot, but there is no question he embodies a characteristic his head coach loves - versatility.

Recruited to Florida by Urban Meyer as a dual-threat quarterback, Burton in college lined up seemingly everywhere - under center, at wide receiver, as a tight end, in the backfield and on special teams. Once as a freshman, he scored six touchdowns in a blowout win against Kentucky, eclipsing Tim Tebow's single-game program record despite garnering only 10 touches.

"I was a backup my freshman year [to starting quarterback John Brantley] and basically Urban came in and told me that he didn't want me to sit on the bench," Burton said last week after the Eagles wrapped up the eighth of their 10 organized team activities. "He wanted me to play and said I was more athletic than some of the guys that were playing at the time. And that's when he just made the switch [from quarterback] right there."

Burton scored 12 touchdowns during the 2010 season, his 11 rushing scores trailing only Emmitt Smith (13) in the school's record book for all-time freshmen. After moving full-time to wide receiver as a senior, Burton capped his collegiate career with 107 receptions for 976 yards and four receiving touchdowns to go with 720 rushing yards and 16 rushing scores.

But that was in college. Undersized for a prototypical tight end - at 6-2, he's 3 inches shorter than Zach Ertz and at 224 pounds he's 31 pounds lighter than Brent Celek - and lacking top-flight receiver speed - he ran a 4.62 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine - Burton was not among the 256 players drafted last month. When the Eagles reached out, Burton saw it as a perfect fit, admitting last week it was basically a no-brainer to sign with Philadelphia given Kelly's offensive system.

"I've always admired [the offense], ever since being at Florida," Burton said. "Even before that, being in high school [when Kelly coached at Oregon] and just watching how they operate. I wanted to be a part of it."

Burton said he views himself as simply an athlete, "just a versatile guy."

"I mean you look at the roster, a lot of people play a bunch of different positions," he said. "I know [Kelly] likes that and that's what I do."

Since joining the Eagles, Burton has practiced strictly with the tight ends, taking mostly fourth-team reps on the offensive unit led by reserve quarterback G.J. Kinne. Burton said his position-mates, particularly James Casey, have helped his transition, assisting him with learning the plays and signals and adjusting to the fast-paced practice tempo. Familiar faces in fellow rookie Jaylen Watkins, his college teammate, and Florida alum Riley Cooper have also helped Burton's adjustment, he said.

"It's a learning experience," he said. "It's still fast even with the 3s or the 4s. It's still high tempo. I'm just trying to learn where to lineup and how to play professionally."

Versatility and athleticism are in Burton's bloodlines. His grandfather, Lawrence Burton, sprinted for Team USA, placing fourth in the 200 meters in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. In 1975, the New Orleans Saints made Lawrence the seventh overall pick in the draft. A wide receiver, he spent five seasons in the NFL, three with Archie Manning and the Saints, and two less productive years with the San Diego Chargers.

Burton, whose younger brother Clay plays tight end for Florida, obviously isn't as highly touted as his grandfather was entering his pro football career. But he hopes to latch on in the NFL all the same.

Will his versatility be enough to land him a spot among a crowded Eagles tight end corps come September?

"I'm not really worried about that," Burton said. "I'm just playing as hard as I can and investing in myself like coach Kelly told us at the very beginning: 'Invest in yourself.' And whatever happens, happens."

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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