Having a dynamic tight end like Zach Ertz can effectively open up an offense’s options—but when there’s a room of three different but dangerous tight ends like those of the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s a matchup nightmare for the opposing defense.
The Philly roster has undergone numerous changes since ZE’s arrival five years ago, but since Trey Burton joined the fold in 2014, the room has remained unchanged going on four years. Over that time, ZE and Burton have grown together under the guidance of veteran Brent Celek, one of the team’s all-time greats at the position.
“We’ve got a bunch of dynamic tight ends in our room,” Zach said. “Brent is obviously one of the best tight ends in Eagles history. Trey is a stud, one of the most versatile tight ends in the league.”
Celek is the elder statesman, entering his 11th season in the NFL, all with the Eagles. He’s just shy of 5,000 yards for his career and has amassed 30 touchdowns along the way. ZE is on pace to surpass those numbers, but the Stanford product knows that he wouldn’t have made that pace without the help of his veteran mentor.
“I never want to see him leave,” Zach said of Celek. “He’s been huge for my career, huge for my development as a tight end and one of my best friends on the team now. I think he could play a couple more years, but it’s up to him. But he’s been one of the best mentors to me that I could ever ask for, and I don’t take it for granted how amazing he’s been.”
That guidance has also helped Burton to find his role in a talented tight ends room. The Florida product had his best season as a pro a year ago, tallying 327 yards and a touchdown. His scoring reception came early in the season while Zach was sidelined with a displaced rib. It was in that contest that Burton showed what ZE and Co. already new—that Burton might be the TE3 in the league.
“I think between the three of us we’ve got a great group,” No. 86 said. “We want the opportunities to go out there and make plays for this football team. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our abilities. I know [quarterback] Carson [Wentz] does as well.”
That continuity is a critical part of the formula for the Philly offense. The Eagles cycled through four starting quarterbacks—Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford—in ZE’s first three years in the league. But now, Carson Wentz is entering his second full season under center, and the turnover has allowed Philly to install some new packages featuring its three-headed tight end monster.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich spoke recently about featuring tight ends in his offense, and it’s clear the Eagles’ offensive boss knows how dangerous 86 and Co. can be.
“We’re going to mix in those packages,” Reich said. “It’s going to be a week-by-week, almost a series-by-series thing in how we can attack [and] what match-ups we get. We have some really good, play-making tight ends. There are times where that’s an advantage to us to do. Then there are times where we’ll want to be in four-wide receiver or three-wide sets. Just got to keep mixing it up, keep teams off balance. They don’t know what we’re going to do, and play to the strengths of our players and the plays that we run.”
No. 86 was Philly’s leading receiver at 816 yards a year ago, and Burton and Celek added 327 and 155 yards, respectively, giving the trio nearly 1,300 yards combined. And by all accounts, that number could be much higher in 2017. But what makes Zach and his fellow tight ends so dangerous?
“Well, you work the inside of the field,” Reich said. “Shorter throws, balls in the air less time. You have many of these tight ends who are almost like receivers. You’re working against linebackers who aren’t as good in coverage, possibly safeties. We just think that’s a real strong match-up when you get a guy like Ertz or Trey or even Celek.”
Simply put, most defenses aren’t equipped to cover a 6-foot-5, 250-point Zach, 6-foot-3, 235-point Burton and 6-foot-4, 255-pound Celek all at the same time. The odds tip heavily in Philly’s favor that a mismatch will happen somewhere.
“Ultimately, we’re going to be able to present a lot of matchup problems,” Zach said. “If [opponents] stay base, we’re able to spread everyone out. If they go nickel, we’re able to run the ball. So it’s up to the defense to adjust.”
The Eagles will give their re-polished tight end attack a trial run Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Philly takes on the Green Bay Packers at 8 p.m. ET for its preseason opener.