When he signed a three-year deal in March to play for Chip Kelly, James Casey probably didn’t envision that he would play just two downs in the season opener.
They weren’t even meaningful downs, as the only time Casey jogged onto the field Monday with the starting offense came in the waning seconds, two victory-formations snaps that ticked off the final seconds of the team’s 33-27 win over the Redskins.
“Of course, I’m disappointed,” Casey said Tuesday, less than 24 hours after his primary contribution to Kelly’s coaching debut came in the form of 18 plays on special teams. “I’m not content just sitting on the sidelines, for sure.
“I’m not happy sitting on the sidelines, knowing you want to be out on the field, but I’m just going to keep working, keep preparing, keep practicing hard, showing the coaches what I can do and hopefully if they put me out there I’ll be ready to perform.”
Casey seemed as confused and uncertain about his role going forward as reporters and fans are, especially after the Eagles moved quickly to sign the former Texans H-back in March to a $12 million deal and bill him as one of the centerpieces of Kelly’s tight end-heavy offense.
On the day to announce Casey’s signing, Kelly heralded his new multidimensional weapon as the complementary piece to Brent Celek the way Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez benefited from each other’s presence in New England’s hurry-up attack. (This was pre-Hernandez murder trial, of course).
But the Eagles spent a second-round pick on Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who quickly ascended up the depth chart at training camp even after missing almost all of the minicamps and organized team activities because of the outdated rule that prohibits college athletes from attending NFL camps until their schools have held graduation ceremonies.
“I came in, of course I signed here expecting to get to play and to get opportunities and be on the field playing offensively, but then they drafted Ertz at the top of the second round and he, of course, is gonna get some opportunities,” Casey said. “He’s a great player. Brent is a great player. I feel like I’m a really good player. I’ve still got a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability.”
Casey spent his first four seasons in Houston, gradually building his resume until he broke out last season for a personal-best 33 receptions, 330 receiving yards and three touchdowns, floating around different formations in the Texan offense.
“I played for four years. I’ve started for two years. I’m definitely not lacking the confidence,” he continued. “I know I can play. I know if I go out there, if I get opportunities, I’m going to make plays. I’m going to be successful. Just the situation I’m in right now I’m not getting a lot of opportunities, but it’s not something I’m gonna pout about, or whine about or complain or try to cause problems in the locker room. I’m getting opportunities on special teams. That’s what my role is right now, so I’m trying to be the best I can at that.”
Kelly on Tuesday tried to defuse concerns about Casey’s disappearing act, insisting that matchups against the Redskins determined the offensive game plan, even though Casey had barely played in any of the final two preseason games.
The Eagles spent much of their frenetic night in Zebra personnel, which consists of three wideouts, one running back and one tight end. When they went to “11 personnel,” with two tight ends, Ertz occupied the No. 2 tight end spot. He played 24 snaps, or 30 percent of all offensive plays.
Casey, Kelly explained, isn’t in their 11 personnel package.
“A lot of times that dictates what they do. If we're 11, they have more DBs in the game,” Kelly said “That was our thought process. That was it. It has nothing to do with James' ability, what we're happy with him, not happy with him. Sometimes we're going to feature three tight ends prominently, and other times we're going to be a little bit more spread. [Monday] night, we were a little bit more spread.”
Casey, who missed some of the spring camps to have his knee scoped, said he’s confident the offense would be every bit as effective if he were the No. 2 tight end in formations and that he would perform if given the chance.
“If they put me out there I can do the same thing,” he said. “I can function in this offense and be very successful. It’s just about getting on the field. You can’t make plays when you’re on the sideline, for sure. But it’s out of my control right now.”
One issue the coaches won’t have is Casey causing problems because of his playing time. He made it clear that his frustrations come second to the team’s success. And right now, the Eagles are 1-0.
Casey isn’t looking for any explanations, either.
“I don’t need them coming, babysitting me and telling me, ‘Hey, it’s OK, it’s fine.’ I’m a grown man,” he said. “I understand the situation. I’m not gonna get mad about it or try to cause problems. It’s just part of what’s going on right now. The main thing is we won the game.”