Brent Celek would have to play another 100 consecutive games — more than six full seasons — just to climb within striking distance of the enduring streak once pieced together by his former Eagles teammate, Jon Runyan.
That’s much longer than the average lifespan of an NFL athlete’s career, but Celek is probably the team’s closest version of an iron man in the post-Runyan era and the one most poised to challenge the former offensive lineman’s streak of playing 190 straight regular-season games.
Runyan, whose attempt to keep adding to the chain stalled in San Diego in 2009 after the Eagles didn’t welcome him back after the 2008 season, cultivated his reputation on playing through surreal degrees of pain from every kind of injury.
After signing with the Eagles in free agency, he played every game from 2000-2008, a span of 144 games that ranks fourth all-time in franchise history, 18 games behind Harold Carmichael’s record 162.
Celek, who hasn’t missed a game since he was drafted in the fifth round in the 2006 draft, ran his games-played streak last season to 80, which is mind-boggling considering that his body had been so damaged that he underwent two separate offseason surgeries, one to repair a double sports hernia and other to fix a torn hip labrum.
Borrowing a page from Runyan’s playbook, not once did Celek utter a peep about pain and discomfort or hint toward sitting one out.
“Why complain about it?” Celek said after Tuesday’s OTA. “Everyone has nicks and bruises. To sit there and complain every single week, it’s annoying. So, get through it and go.”
Celek caught 62 passes last year, the second-most of his career and second-most on the team, and totaled 811 yards and five touchdown catches. Week after week, he managed the pain, with some assistance from the team medics, but Celek wasn’t even close to his peak.
“It was a little more discouraging than anything because I couldn’t do things that I wanted to do,” he said. “I was running routes really high and I didn’t quite understand it. It was always bugging me. It messed with my back a little bit, but I was always just … lower body just dead.”
Amazingly, his numbers improved as the season progressed. He only caught nine passes in his first five games and didn’t have a touchdown, but as the offensive line improved, Celek stayed in less and found his niche in the offense, despite the nagging abdomen and hip.
“He was definitely pushing through it,” tight end Clay Harbor said. “He had a lot of pain. He was pushing through some hard times there, but if you watched on film, he played so well and at such a high level, people didn’t know — had no idea — until the end of the season.”
But the same passion and willpower that pushed him through last season’s injuries are now Celek’s obstacles in spring camps. While his teammates are going close to full speed at practice, Celek is trying to make the most of his reps without putting too much burden on his surgically repaired parts.
Of course, he hasn’t skipped an OTA session and still takes most of the first-team reps.
“I want to push myself,” he said. “I want to take it to the limit, but I don’t want to cross that limit and reinjure myself or hurt myself. It’s all about the regular season and getting ready for training camp. It’s good for me to be out here, getting my conditioning, working with the guys, but like I said, I’ve got to be smart.”
There are times when Celek acknowledges that his body needs rest, but asking the coaches for a break isn’t in his DNA.
“It’s hard,” he said, “but I know what’s best for me and best for the team is to be smart about it. It’s tough to tell them, ‘Hey, let me pull back a little bit here,’ because that’s not my nature. But there’s times I have to do it, and I understand that.”
Nnamdi Asomugha wasn’t at Tuesday’s practice, but the team is aware and said the cornerback was tending to a personal issue. … Reserve second-year linebacker Casey Matthews missed the OTA with a sore back but might be ready to practice today.