Eagles

Trey Burton, Brent Celek have no problem filling Zach Ertz's shoes

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Trey Burton, Brent Celek have no problem filling Zach Ertz's shoes

Really, it felt like 2009 again. There was Brent Celek making a big catch, bowling over a linebacker and lunging past the sticks for a first down. And there was the crowd at the Linc roaring its approval.

Just like old times.

"It felt great," Celek said. 

Celek, once one of the NFL's most feared pass-receiving tight ends, has been largely a situational blocker since the emergence of Zach Ertz as an even-more feared pass-receiving tight end.

When Ertz was a surprise inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury, Celek and Trey Burton picked up the slack, combining to catch five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles' 51-23 win over the Broncos at the Linc (see breakdown).

The Eagles have tremendous tight end depth. Celek, from 2009 through 2013, ranked sixth in the NFL among tight ends in receiving yards and can still catch the ball and run. Burton, a former undrafted free agent, caught 37 passes last year, which is tremendous production for a third-string tight end.

The Eagles have been losing players all year, and in every case, the backup has performed at a high level.

Celek and Burton kept up that tradition Sunday.

"I'm not surprised by any means," said Ertz, who came into the weekend second among NFL tight ends in catches and yards. "I'm pumped for those guys. Brent and Trey stepped up and did exactly what they needed to do."

Celek had caught just four passes all year and only 27 in his last 30 games. And Burton had just nine catches the first eight weeks.

But Celek caught three for 39 yards Sunday, two for first downs, and Burton added a 14-yarder and a circus 27-yard touchdown — the longest TD catch of his career — as the Eagles improved to 8-1 with their seventh straight win (see Roob's observations)

"When you lose guys — and we've lost a few, (Darren) Sproles, (Jason) Peters — everybody else has to just play that much better, and that's what I tried to do," said Celek, now in his 11th year with the Eagles.

"That's what I have to do. That's what they have me here for. I've got to be ready to be that guy who can come in and help in the run game and help a little in the passing game, and when Ertz goes down, I have to be able to play well. That's what my teammates expect, and that's what I expect."

Safe to say there's nobody on this roster that hardcore Eagles fans appreciate more than Celek.

He's now played in 168 games, fifth-most in franchise history.

The only guy ahead of him who played his entire career with the Eagles is Chuck Bednarik, at 169 games.

So in two weeks, Celek will have played in more games than anybody in Eagles history who played his entire career here.

Nothing better than seeing the grizzled old forgotten veteran show flashes of his old self.

Celek — the only player on the roster who's played in an Eagles' playoff win — has done something rare, transitioning from a big-time starter to a rarely used backup.

"Sometimes that's just what you have to do for the team," Celek said. "If you want to be a team player and you still want to be a part of this organization, that's what you have to do.

"I could have gone in a different direction, but I want to be here. I love this place."

Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

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Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

He was among the NFL’s best in virtually every category. Fourth in passer rating. First in touchdown percentage. Eighth in interception percentage. Second in TD-to-INT ratio. He was even third in wins despite missing the last three regular-season games.

So what’s Carson Wentz’s approach going into 2018?

“I think we can improve everywhere,” he said. “Overall, I think we can keep making strides and keep our foot on the gas.”

And that starts with completion percentage.

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes last year, which ranked 23rd of 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. 

Ahead of only Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett and DeShone Kizer.

Not the kind of company he wants to keep.

Wentz was so good in every other area he still fashioned a passer rating over 100. In fact, his 101.9 rating was the highest in NFL history by a quarterback completing 60.2 percent of his passes (minimum 400 attempts).

The league average last year was 62 percent. And for the sake of comparison, Nick Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes if you combine the regular season and postseason.

Wentz dropped from 62.4 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent last year.

Among 36 active NFL quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 1,000 passes, Wentz’s 61.5 completion percentage ranks 21st.

 “I know I’d like to see my completions go higher,” Wentz said last week. “I think I was right around 60 percent and I expect more out of myself in that area.”

After 2016, Wentz identified red zone and third down as two areas he hoped to improve on. 

And he wound up leading the NFL in both red zone efficiency (NFL-best 116.3 passer rating) and third-down efficiency (NFL-best 123.7 rating).

“Third down, red zone, we were really good,” he said. “That’s something we really focused on from Year 1 to Year 2, but we (still) all feel we can definitely improve in those areas.”

Wentz also committed nine fumbles in 13 games, and only Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson had more.

“I think we had too many fumbles,” he said. “Balls on the ground too many times.”

Wentz, now nearly five months out from his knee injury, said he’s used a lot of his extra time at the NovaCare Complex this offseason focusing on what he can improve on in 2018, and one of those things is his upper-body strength.

“With all the extra rehab and not being able to run and do a lot of things early on you’ve really just got to focus on some different things and I got to do a lot of seated throwing and trying to build my arm strength and really take care of my upper body more than I have in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an interesting process not being able to get that true conditioning and that rehab in, but it’s exciting to start easing into the running and conditioning stuff. … 

“I feel good. I definitely feel working with the strength guys, we had some friendly competition stuff with the other (injured) guys in there rehabbing and I definitely feel like I’m making some strides in there.”

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them, and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus.