In most NFL offenses, the third-string tight end is seldom used — primarily as a blocker if at all. In the Eagles’ offense, the third tight end can be akin to a secret weapon.
James Casey caught only three passes in that role for the Eagles in 2014, but two went for touchdowns. With Casey out of the picture, the job figures to fall to Trey Burton, who has the potential to do a lot more with it.
As tight ends go, Burton is about as versatile as they come. At the University of Florida he also lined up wide receiver, running back and even quarterback. Last year for the Eagles as an undrafted rookie, Burton racked up seven special teams tackles, a blocked punt and helped ice a 27-0 shutout over the New York Giants with five carries in the fourth quarter.
Burton is what Eagles head coach Chip Kelly would refer to as a Swiss Army knife. For right now, however, the focus is on being that No. 3 tight end.
“It’s night and day, knowing what I’m supposed to do,” Burton said of entering his second season. “[Tight ends coach Justin] Peele and [tight ends Brent] Celek and [Zach] Ertz have done an unbelievable job helping me out and bringing me up from where I was last year, basically teaching me the position.”
Kelly would agree that Burton has come a long way in a short period of time, stressing that he’s looking at how to fit him in the rotation behind two proven, talented options in Celek and Ertz.
“Trey stepped up,” Kelly said last week. “It’s Year 2 for him. He was a key special teams player for us last year. We’re really putting a little bit more on his plate as a tight end because he's moving into that third tight end role with James Casey not being here.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly how he can fit into being one of our weapons because he's a really good offensive player.”
Burton has enjoyed a strong training camp this summer. He stood out as a receiver on a near daily basis — you simply don’t come across that many tight ends with 4.6 speed. It’s translated only to three receptions for 36 yards during preseason, although that’s not entirely his fault.
Burton nearly took the top off the defense on the first play from scrimmage in the preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts, but Mark Sanchez’s pass was underthrown and broken up. Later in the game, he was open again over the middle, but Matt Barkley's pass was a little behind the intended target and batted away again.
But not surprisingly, Burton has demonstrated his value in more ways than one. He’s also a capable and willing blocker, making one of the key seals on Kenjon Barner’s 9-yard touchdown run in the same contest.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Burton said of blocking. “Last year, coach Peele was the assistant tight ends coach, so he got to spend a lot more one-on-one time with me. The work he put in with me last year, and just hanging around Celek and Ertz and taking pride in it has got me to where I’m at now.”
The third-string tight end on this roster is under the microscope even more so than usual, because there’s a chance Burton will be No. 2 on opening day.
Ertz underwent surgery for a core muscle injury two weeks ago. Initially, he was expected to miss only the preseason, although there seems to be some doubt as to whether he’ll be ready for the opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 14.
Undrafted rookies Eric Tomlinson, Andrew Gleichert and Justin Tukes form the rest of the depth at the position. It’s possible the Eagles carry four tight ends, as they did last season with Burton, although he played almost exclusively on special teams.
If Ertz misses any time, Burton could be tasked with filling some big shoes for awhile. Ertz finished third on the team last season with 58 receptions and 702 yards.
Whatever is asked of Burton this season, he’ll give it a shot. That means No. 2 tight end, No. 3 tight end, blocking, receiving, rushing, special teams — anything.
“I’m open to whatever," Burton said. "Coach Peele knows whatever they want me to do I’m open to do it. I’m just here to help the team win. I would like to help bring a Super Bowl to Philadelphia.”