Eagles

Carson Wentz-Zach Ertz connection continues to grow on and off field for Eagles

Carson Wentz-Zach Ertz connection continues to grow on and off field for Eagles

As they were running off the field following Carson Wentz's 50-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith Thursday night against the Dolphins, Zach Ertz yelled something over to Wentz.

"He’s like, 'I love that, I love that!’" Wentz said with a laugh.

They know. They know that the more the Eagles can establish a deep game — something absent from the offense last year — the more the middle of the field will be open for Ertz.

Ertz and Wentz had a pretty good connection last year. Ertz ranked fourth among all NFL tight ends last season with 58 receiving yards per game, and his 5.6 catches per game led all tight ends.

But judging from the last month of practice and from the starting offense's brief preseason appearances, they look to be on another level this year.

“I think we’ve definitely taken a big step," Ertz said. "We’re seeing the game very similar. We’re both very high football IQ guys, so it’s easy to translate from the practice field or the meeting room to the game field.

"And just having the same quarterback for a second year, it’s huge for chemistry, especially when it’s someone as talented as him. I'm excited about it."

Ertz played with Nick Foles and Michael Vick as a rookie, Foles and Mark Sanchez in 2014, Sam Bradford in 2015 and Wentz last year.

This year, Wentz will become the Eagles' first quarterback to start consecutive openers since Vick in 2012 and 2013, and Ertz could be one of the greatest benefactors.

Wentz's comfort zone last year was Jordan Matthews and Ertz. With Matthews now in Buffalo, Ertz becomes Wentz's No. 1 target, and if the deep game blossoms the way it should, it's going to be difficult for defenses to account for both the Eagles' outside receivers and Ertz underneath.

We saw in the preseason game against the Dolphins on Thursday night just how effortlessly Wentz and Ertz are connecting on the field. Wentz found Ertz for completions of 12, 14 and 18 yards in just one quarter of action.

“It kind of speaks to the length of time and amount of hours we’ve put into this thing together," Ertz said.

"Not only talking but the reps that we’ve put on the field at each and every practice. When we get five minutes off, we’re over there on a separate field trying to perfect things. Hopefully, it shows up this year."

Ertz and Wentz are very close friends, and both believe that closeness off the field will lead to some big-time production on the field.

Ertz has the ninth-most catches by a tight end after four years — one catch out of sixth place — and if he stays healthy this year and just matches last year's production you're looking at about 90 receptions and over 900 yards.

But if that connection between Wentz and Ertz has grown as much as both say it has, it could be a historic season for Ertz. For both of them.

“I think the biggest thing is just the more reps on the field, but off the field, we’re so close too," Wentz said. "There’s a natural connection there that people don’t always see.

"When you’re on the same page, you kind of build that. When we’re hanging out, sometimes we’ll sit there and talk about certain plays against certain coverages and different things.

"The more we’re friends off the field, the more it helps us on the field. Does it make or break it? No, but I think it definitely impacts the relationship we have on the field."

And then there's the Eagles' new-found outside speed, with Smith and Alshon Jeffery and possibly an expanded role for Nelson Agholor.

That's why Ertz was so excited after Smith's 50-yard catch Thursday night. The Eagles didn't have a single TD catch over 40 yards by a wide receiver last year, and without the threat of the deep ball, defenses were able to cheat low instead of playing the outside receivers honestly.

In fact, in the three years since DeSean Jackson was released, the Eagles have six total TD pass plays of 50 yards to wide receivers — three by Jeremy Maclin in 2014 and one each by Matthews, Agholor and Riley Cooper in 2015

All of which makes the area of the field that Ertz roams more clogged.

Now?

“Now, they’ve got to back up," Ertz said. "You saw what happened when the safety played low (Thursday night). They kind of keyed on me on the corner route, and we were able to throw it over the top.

"Just having a guy like Torrey Smith, obviously an established speed guy in this league, they’re going to have to back up. So I’m excited about it. Our offense is going to be extremely versatile this year. We’ve got a lot of guys, so it’s going to be a good year."

And Wentz, who throws a sweet deep ball, now has a couple guys who can catch it.

“That will help tremendously," Wentz said. "It's just going to help everybody else.

"If they do want to sit, OK, we have speed out there. If not? the middle of the field is going to be open. I think it’ll definitely help open things up for Zach."

Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

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Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

Eagles linebacker Joe Walker, who missed all of last year with a serious knee injury, has been voted by his teammates this year's Eagles recipient of the prestigious 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. 

Walker joins such hallowed names in Eagles history as Andre Waters, Kevin Turner, Correll Buckhalter, Chad Lewis and Jason Avant in receiving the award, given annually to a player on each team who shows a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage on and off the field.   

Walker, a seventh-round pick out of Oregon in 2016, suffered a knee injury the second week of training camp last summer but bounced back to make the 53-man roster this year and has played in all six games for the 5-1 Eagles.

With Jordan Hicks hurt in the second half Thursday night in Charlotte, Walker played a career-high 13 snaps on defense against the Panthers. He's played 53 special teams snaps this year.

Ed Block was the Colts’ trainer from 1954 through 1977 after earning a Purple Heart in the Army under General Patton in the tank corps in World War II.

The 32 Ed Block Courage Award winners will be honored at the annual Ed Block Courage banquet in Baltimore this spring.

For more information on the program, go to www.EdBlock.org.

Here is a list of all the Eagles’ Ed Block Courage Award winners since the inception of the program in 1984: 
 
2017     Joe Walker
2016     Nolan Carroll
2015     Fletcher Cox
2014     Jeremy Maclin
2013     Jason Kelce
2012     Colt Anderson
2011     Mike Patterson
2010     Jason Avant
2009     Michael Vick
2008     Jon Dorenbos
2007     Montae Reagor
2006     Jerome McDougle
2005     Chad Lewis
2004     Derrick Burgess
2003     Correll Buckhalter
2002     Shawn Barber
2001     Duce Staley & Tommy Brasher
2000     Cecil Martin
1999     Mike Mamula
1998     Bobby Taylor
1997     Rhett Hall
1996     Kevin Turner
1995     Charlie Garner
1994     Fred Barnett
1993     Andre Waters
1992     Jerome Brown
1991     David Alexander
1990     Ron Solt
1989     Mike Quick
1988     Wes Hopkins
1987     Gerry Feehery
1986     Jody Schultz
1985     Ron Jaworski
1984     John Spagnola

Despite raising bar in 2017, Philadelphia won't host 2018 NFL draft

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Despite raising bar in 2017, Philadelphia won't host 2018 NFL draft

The City of Philadelphia did an incredible job hosting the 2017 draft.

And it still wasn't enough to keep the event. 

The NFL announced the 2018 draft will be held in the Dallas Cowboys' home, AT&T Stadium. Dallas — or technically Arlington, Texas — will be the third city to host the draft in three years, following Chicago and Philly. 

It has been rumored for months that Jerry Jones had his city as the favorite to host the next draft. Turns out those rumors were right. 

Good luck topping what Philly did in 2017 though. 

“Philadelphia raised the bar by taking the Draft to another level, and this new opportunity in Dallas will enable us to continue the event’s evolution and grow it even further,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Dallas Cowboys, the cities of Arlington, Dallas, and Frisco, and the Dallas Sports Commission for their leadership in turning this vision into reality.” 

The 2018 draft will begin on April 26. The NFL's release said the draft site will include the field, stands and outdoor plazas. 

According to the NFL, at the 2017 draft, a record 250,000 fans attended the three-day event along the Ben Franklin Parkway. The estimated economic impact for the city was $94.9 million. 

“The Draft was a family-friendly event for Philadelphians and visitors across the country,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “I thank all of our public and private partners, especially the City employees and first responders, who made this event a success and allowed Philly to shine in the national spotlight once again.”

Aside from the numbers, the draft in Philly was aesthetically pleasing. The television shots from the Parkway were gorgeous and the vibe around the entire event was special. 

Things went so well, NFL senior vice president of events Peter O'Reilly said the draft in Philly was a "resounding success." 

It won't be coming back in 2018, but the next time it does, the city will be ready.