The preseason is an odd time, especially in the very early portion of August, and this past week when — with a few exceptions — starters played only a series or two. By the time we get to Week 3 of the preseason, first team offenses and defenses typically stay on for the first half at minimum, with the game treated as a sort of dress rehearsal.
That’s the game we can poke, prod, and examine thoroughly. We can still do that now, and we have been. But there’s more than just the limited sample size and skewed results with first teamers dicing up second teamers that we need to be aware of as the Week 1 preseason review continues. There’s also the matter of complexity. Often, only the most basic elements of a new offense or defense have been installed at this point, so what we’re seeing is only a hint of what’s to come.
Fine, and fair enough. But what Chip Kelly hinted at then did what hints do: make us even more curious, and a little confused.
The debut of the Eagles’ new head coach and offensive dynamo was highly anticipated when Philadelphia hosted New England. The early highlights with the starters for both sides on the field included Michael Vick connecting with DeSean Jackson for a 47-yard touchdown, while the foundation of Kelly’s offense was showcased, with its varying tempo and outside zone blocking. All of that is great and expected, but for fantasy purposes, we were interested in a hint of a different kind to help solve what had become a much talked about offseason riddle: how exactly will Kelly use his tight ends?
After 21 first-team snaps, we were left with a contradiction.
Kelly’s Oregon offense used multiple tight ends, and at a post-draft press conference he now famously/infamously said this:
“Yeah. I go like that,” he said, holding up three fingers to members of the media at a post-draft press conference, “and three tight ends go into the game. Now, if [the opponents] go three linebackers, we split [the tight ends] out, we throw passes. If they go three DBs, we smash you [with the run]. So pick your poison.”
Immediately, we had another example of the conflict between reality and fantasy. In reality, what Kelly described is, at the very least, innovative. And often in the NFL, innovative will be successful until the defense catches up. But in fantasy, using three tight ends even sort of consistently will lead to insanity.
James Casey, Brent Celek, and rookie Zach Ertz all do different things well. While Celek will likely get the most targets, his edge over the other two will be minimal, and inconsistent at best with the looks determined by game situations, and what the defense is offering.
Back to Week 1 of the preseason then, our first opportunity to get even a vague sense of what to expect. In typical Kelly fashion, he took our assumptions and laughed heartily, as on those 21 plays with the first-team offense on the field, only six required more than one tight end. Umm, thanks Chip.
That’s what Jeff McLane observed, and although he gave the same disclaimer that I did above (first game of preseason, blah blah), he also noted that Casey didn’t play a single snap with the starters. But the most intriguing develop was Celek’s widespread usage:
He started eight plays lined up as a halfback – at one end of the offensive line or another, a step back. Four times he started from the traditional tight end spot to the left or right of the tackle. He also lined up four times in the slot, three times split wide, and twice he started in the backfield to the left of the quarterback in the shotgun. “In this offense, you’ve got to know every position, and they can just interchange you anywhere,” Celek said Monday. “And it’s fun. It’s a new experience. You get to do different things. Guys like it.”
Combined in total Casey, Ertz, and Celek caught five passes for 27 yards (10 yards apiece for Ertz and Celek, and seven for Casey). Right now as the confusion continues and Kelly plays his wicked games, all Eagles tight ends are going universally undrafted in fantasy leagues. That’s the correct approach, but if we see similar widespread usage for Celek going forward in the preseason, he becomes worthy of a late-round flier as Ertz’s blocking develops.
Remember that despite the general offensive calamity in Philly last year, he still finished with 684 receiving yards, and he’s only a year removed from an 811-yard season.