Eagles Camp Countdown: #10 – Tight Ends
Eagles rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University for training camp in only 10 days. With that in mind, we begin a countdown of the most interesting position groups to watch during camp.
Perhaps the biggest storyline to watch at the tight end position is the developing chemistry between Brent Celek and Michael Vick.
The sixth-year tight end has a stranglehold on the starting job, and Clay Harbor is a heavy favorite to secure the backup spot entering his third season.
While Brett Brackett and Chase Ford will attempt to challenge for roster spots, the Eagles depth of talent at wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line and cornerback make it unlikely they’ll keep a third tight end.
The ability of Celek and Vick to hook up often this season could be key to the Eagles success, particularly in the red zone. Celek caught 62 passes last year for 811 yards and five touchdowns, tied for the team lead. Four of Celek’s touchdowns came in the red zone, accounting for more than 23 percent of the Eagles’ red zone touchdown receptions.
Celek’s size in the red zone is particularly important for Vick, who can struggle to find passing lanes as the field gets shorter due to his height. At 6-foot-0, Vick is tied with Drew Brees as the shortest starting quarterback in the league. Brees was the only top-10 passer last year under 6-foot-2, with the average of the top-10 landing at more than 6-foot-3.
The shorter a quarterback is, the more difficult it becomes to get a clear field of vision when looking around offensive lineman who are three to six inches taller. That problem is magnified when the targets are shorter, which is why it is so difficult for Vick and DeSean Jackson, whose only 5-foot-10, to hook up near the end zone.
Of the Eagles’ 17 red zone touchdown passes last year, four belonged to Vince Young. However, all four of Celek’s were delivered by Vick, meaning that Celek accounted for nearly one out of every three touchdown passes Vick threw in the red zone.
In addition to his chemistry with Vick, it will be key that the Eagles utilize Celek properly. They’ve struggled to find a balance between keeping him in as a blocker to protect Vick and sending him out to be involved in the passing game.
Vick’s numbers have dropped off when Celek’s receiving stats improved, so the Birds need to find the right situations to maximize Celek’s impact. Third downs and red zone attempts are a good place to start.
Harbor, meanwhile, had a quiet year but did improve his numbers slightly in the final three games to finish with 13 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Brett Brackett returns after spending eight weeks on the Eagles practice squad last season, but the Penn State product has never appeared in a regular season game.
Chase Ford, a rookie undrafted free agent from Miami, was a backup in college whose best hope may be to grab a spot on the practice squad.
The Eagles haven’t kept three tight ends on their initial 53-man roster since 2008, when they gave spots to Celek, L.J. Smith and Matt Schobel.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.