Casey exemplifies Birds' new offensive thrust

Eagles TE James Casey. (AP Photo)

The quarterbacks are the highest-profile attendees of these two days of rookie and select vet practice at NovaCare, before the full squad reports Thursday and "real" camp begins Friday. First-round rookie Lane Johnson, an offensive tackle, also is much in demand with reporters, Johnson being the highest-drafted Eagle since Donovan McNabb in 1999.

After that, though, there's James Casey.

Casey and his former Texans teammate, linebacker Connor Barwin, were the Eagles' highest-profile free agent signings. Nobody better embodies the shift from Andy Reid's West Coast offense to Kelly's faster-paced style than Casey, an H-back/tight end known for his athleticism and his savvy.

 Kelly was asked this week how important Casey is to what he wants to do.

"Very important," he said. "We pride ourselves on versatility and being able to put different personnel packages on the field at the same time. You know, having a guy that can play multiple positions makes a lot of difficult decisions for the defense in terms of how you're going to defend them. So, (we're) trying to utilize that in James. The more times we get a practice opportunity with him, the more times we get a chance to see what he does best and play to his strengths."

"It was a great opportunity for me to come out here these last few days with the rookies," Casey said Wednesday. He had the option of coming in early since he missed some spring work because of a minor knee cleanout. "There was only a couple of veterans here, myself and (center Jason) Kelce and a couple quarterbacks. It felt good. I got to work a little bit of those kinks out ... I felt really good today. That first day was like any first day, a little sluggish, you're kind of getting back into things, but my legs felt really good today."

"I definitely wanted to be here. I play football for a living; if I get a chance to get out here and practice -- plus, I feel bad because I missed some of the OTAs. It's the worst for an athlete, when you see your teammates out there working, and you're riding a bicycle ... I kind of paid my dues back, these last couple of days."

Casey was a Pro Bowl alternate last season before hitting free agency, though the Texans still used him more as a blocker than a pass-catcher (34 receptions for 330 yards, 3 TDs). He signed for three years and $12 million with the Eagles because he was interested in Kelly's approach, he said.

"I feel like I really do have a good opportunity here," Casey said. "In Houston, I felt like I did a really good job ... I did a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff ... I try to pride myself on being a really good blocker, even though I didn't get much credit for it around the league. I pride myself on playing really good special teams, which nobody really cares about, until something bad happens, or something really good happens.

"I felt like this was just a great fit for me, with coach Kelly coming here ... (but) you never just come in and say, 'oh, I'm going to get opportunities.' You gotta work for 'em. My mindset's always, I gotta go out on the practice field, I gotta show coach Kelly and the offensive coaches they can trust me and I deserve opportunities."

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