You’ve probably noticed by now that football coaches tend to be set in their ways. They have a vision of how their teams will play, and that vision is the only correct one in their view. It’s why they select players to fit that vision and teach them how to see it as well. One marriage of vision and selection that hasn’t always matched up is the Houston Texans and former H-back James Casey.
Casey, a versatile and potentially very productive pass-catcher, was used as an H-back in the Texans’ run-first system. He initially came into the league as a tight end but was moved to H-back to replace lead blocker Vonta Leach, who departed for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. The change of position gave him a change of responsibilities: more crashing helmets and less catching passes.
The move ultimately wasn’t beneficial to Casey’s career path. In the last two years as Leach’s replacement, he caught 50 total passes, with 34 of them coming in 2012. There is potential for him to catch many more during the rest of his career, and the hope is that they will come in Philadelphia, where he signed a three-year deal worth up to $14.5 million with the Eagles.
In Philadelphia, newly hired head coach Chip Kelly has his own vision, and Casey is clearly a part of it. Casey will play the role of H-back once again, but likely be more productive because he’ll see more passes come his way, although he’s still there primarily for his movement and blocking skills in Kelly’s run-first system.
He’ll see more balls come his way on screen passes and quick routes from the backfield. The Texans did a little bit of that with him last season, using him on flat and seam routes, such as an angle route out of the backfield against the Buffalo Bills in Week 9.
It was 1st-and-15 after a false start penalty and the Texans were backed up near midfield, at the opponent’s 46-yard line. Crouched under center was quarterback Matt Schaub, and four yards behind him was Casey, while seven yards back stood running back Justin Forsett. It was run heavy personnel that perfectly set up a play action pass to Casey.
At the snap, Schaub retreated from the line of scrimmage and opened his body to his right, where he stuck the ball out to Forsett as if he was handing it off. Simultaneously, Casey released from his traditional fullback alignment by running away from the quarterback, and he worked through two Bills’ defensive linemen without contact.
The design of the play enabled Casey to come free once he passed the line of scrimmage because there were no Bills defenders to patrol the seam after they bit on the play action. That left him one-on-one with a late dropping defensive lineman, who had no shot of covering Casey anywhere on the field, let alone the middle of it. Casey looped from outside the left hash to the middle of the field and rose up to catch a well-thrown pass from Schaub.
The end result was a 24-yard gain after a catch-and-run by Casey and a break in coverage by the Bills. Although the defense was lacking in quality, the play showed the potential of Casey in Philadelphia because the Eagles will incorporate passing through play action and reading defenders post-snap.
With a new system in place, the Eagles will surely have defenders similarly confused early, and that will create opportunities for Casey to catch passes in very similar ways to the plays illustrated above. The quantity of passes is uncertain, but judging by Kelly’s past offenses, it may not be much more than what Casey’s caught as of late. Over the last three years, Kelly’s tight ends at Oregon have caught 25, 31 and 24 passes.
For the sake of Casey’s talent, hopefully Kelly will expand his vision and make it a point to get him the ball, unlike Gary Kubiak and the Houston Texans.