Burton takes fringe role on Eagles seriously

ONE YEAR into the Chip Kelly era, there is a recurring theme among the Eagles players who work the fringes of the team. The role guys, the special-teams players, the likely to be inactives.

They've got their, um, stuff together. At least more together than many of their peers. They take little for granted. They appreciate their station on this roster, rather than feel slighted by it. They speak repeatedly about their self-belief, and about the background names that anchor and lift them.

"I know one thing," rookie Trey Burton said after practice at the NovaCare yesterday. "No matter what happens to me on the field, I go home to my wife and little girl and they're going to love me. Regardless of whether I drop 100 balls in a row, or if I catch 100 in a row."

An undrafted free agent out of Florida, Burton was a slight surprise when the Eagles made their final cuts Saturday. All three tight ends from a year ago are back and healthy, and there is a salivating anticipation among those who follow this team and/or Kelly's inclinations that at least one of them, Zach Ertz, is poised for a monster season.

That anticipation is based on Ertz' route-running, size and speed, which has been likened to that of a wide receiver. A 6-5, 250-pound wide receiver. In other words, the salivation is an offshoot of an offense in which the skill positions sometimes blur - a back becomes a receiver, a receiver becomes a back, and a two-tight-end set does not necessarily indicate a running play.

This is where Burton comes in. He began his college career at Florida as a running quarterback, and when it ended, he had played fullback, H-back, tight end and, in his senior season, wide receiver. So while he knew when he signed with this team that Ertz, Brent Celek and James Casey were established NFL players, he wasn't quite sure what Kelly or GM Howie Roseman saw him as.


Can Nick Foles be as good this season?

"They just said, 'athlete,' " Burton said.

And that didn't insult you?

"Nah," he said, smiling. "If it gets me in the NFL, call me whatever you want to call me.

"There's a lot of things this offense does that's different from many of the offenses in the NFL and I'm a different player. So I feel like a fit . . . I can eat up a couple of roster spots. I can play a couple different positions. If we're short one area, they can put me there. If we're short another area, I can play there. And I can play special teams, too."

That's a lot of playbooks. And a lot of absorbing.

"Well, yeah, you have to be smart," Burton said.

You have to be more than smart. Especially as a rookie. You have to be mature, responsible, accountable. Born Lawrence Burton III, Trey was 5 when his biological father left, and there has been little contact since. Only 22, Burton is a product of a environment that became supportive out of necessity: Raised by a single parent in Venice, Fla., who was bolstered by her parents, steered and protected by a pair of high school coaches, John Peacock and Larry Shannon, who, Burton has said, "kept me going in the right direction."

Cindy Burton, his mom, grew up in Bucks County and attended Lower Bucks Christian Academy before moving on to Liberty University, the Southern Baptist college in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late Jerry Falwell. While Trey has no relationship with his father, he does communicate with his paternal grandfather, especially when the subject is football. Larry Burton was the seventh pick of the 1975 NFL draft and played five seasons as a wide receiver. He also finished fourth in the 200 meters of the Munich Olympics, and has often expressed to his grandson, as a life lesson, regret that he didn't train harder.

All that has combined to make Trey Burton the versatile, appreciative, hardworking fringe player the Eagles thought he might be, a player who might just prove invaluable when his own rough edges are smoothed by a year of practicing inside of Kelly's fast-paced system and - who knows? - even playing, should some bodies begin to fall.

"I just have to continue to get better," he said. "I am nowhere where I need to be to be right now to be a starter in the NFL, and I understand that. But I'm also confident in my abilities, and I feel if I put my best foot forward I'll have a good shot at being a productive player in this league."

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

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