At the start of training camp, the San Francisco 49ers employed eight tight ends.
Garett Celek's future with the team was very much uncertain. But by the time the 49ers opened the 2015 season, the former undrafted free agent out of Michigan State had not only won a roster spot, he also carved out an unexpectedly significant role in the offense.
Through five games, the fourth-year tight end has started four times and been targeted 19 times – tied for second most on the team behind only Anquan Boldin. Celek has caught 14 of those passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
"I think he's really broken through," offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said on Thursday. "What a great job Garrett is doing. He's earned that right to be a starting tight end in the NFL."
In 2014, Celek appeared in only three games due to back and foot injuries. So far this season, however, the tight end has managed to stay out of the training room.
"Just being healthy and putting film out there for the coaches to see, that gives them confidence in you," Celek said.
When asked for specific reasons why his game has improved so much, Celek couldn't put a finger on anything in particular – although he does believe his work in the film room has paid off.
"Coach always says (I have) savviness," Celek said. "I think my feel for certain things has gotten better. I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but if you can get open, that's big."
Celek did just that on several occasions Sunday against the New York Giants. His night culminated on a 5-yard reception from Colin Kaepernick for his first career touchdown.
Celek beat his defender with a stutter-step move at the goal line to get free. Apparently, Saturday wasn't the first time in the week the tight end ran that route to perfection.
"He did that on Thursday too and really kind of opened everyone's eyes up," Chryst said. "So that was an easy call to make down in the red zone. Not just because of what the Giants were playing but we had great confidence because of what Garrett did on the practice field.
"That's what coaches love to see: You do something on the practice field and replicate it on the game field."
Coincidentally, Celek's older brother Brent hauled in a touchdown pass of his own earlier in the day for the Philadelphia Eagles. The siblings later texted each other congratulations.
"Pretty awesome," Celek said. "I've always wanted that to happen, and it did. It's a blessing."
As for what happened to Celek's first touchdown ball, the tight end is no longer in possession of it.
"My wife has it," he said. "And she's not letting go."