Like the most things in life, football is not standing still.
It’s a sport that has been evolving from the early days of its existence and that includes rules, formations, television coverage and much more. In terms of on-field evolution, the NFL is more and more turning into a pass-happy league and never before the quarterback’s passing ability was so crucial.
Wide receivers have also emerged as offensive stars and running backs that can catch the ball have seen their value increase. However, the role that has been redefined is that of the tight end.
Players like Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark have been the “go-to” guys for their quarterbacks and raised the tight end’s stature to a new level. For the past 10 years, these two players were a constant danger in the endzone.
Tight ends are very important nowadays, with defenses doubling receivers and dropping players into coverage. When the quarterback is pressured, the tight end will most likely be his first option.
The Philadelphia Eagles have Brent Celek and Clay Harbor. Celek has been the starter over the last three years, showing ability in various plays. He had a magnificent season in 2009, scoring eight touchdowns, but was limited to a blocking role in 2010, when the team switched from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb and then, Michael Vick.
Last season, Celek scored five touchdowns and amassed 811 receiving yards. He had some drops, but his production has been limited because he was playing while injured and mostly because Vick is not looking his way often.
Vick is scanning the field for a big play, giving the ball to LeSean McCoy in running and screen passing plays or scrambling—he rarely goes to his tight end.
However, this changed a bit during the final games of the season. The Eagles won the last four, performing the way they should have been the whole season—but they didn’t.
Of course, that winning streak was not a result of Vick passing to Celek, nonetheless, the Eagles became less predictable offensively.
This should continue in 2012.
It would be a mistake to rely only on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. McCoy is also one of the best running backs and knows how to win yards when playing as a receiver, but he can’t carry the team alone. Vick also needs to avoid scrambling when not necessary.
Philadelphia’s offensive line improved greatly in 2011 and if that keeps going in 2012, I expect Celek to be more involved in the passing game. The Eagles need to take advantage of his size when going for the endzone or in”third-and-short” situations, when they’ll be spreading the field.
The tight end adds a new dimension to the passing play when used as a receiver. Celek can provide this to the Eagles and hopefully, we’ll see his game blossom this year.