Long before he was a really, really bad TV color analyst, Jason Witten was a really, really good NFL tight end.
And that's the one Zach Ertz has always looked up to.
As the Eagles prepare to face the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Ertz continues his assault on several of Witten's records, most notably most catches in a season by a tight end.
With Ertz playing Sunday afternoon in the stadium Witten called home from 2009 through 2017, it's a good time to take a look at the relationship between these two high-octane tight ends.
"I've studied him for so long, finding the intricacies of how he ran routes from the moment I came into the league," Ertz said this week. "He was the guy I was always watching because it seemed like on third down, he was always getting his number called. He was always attacking leverage. So I really just modeled my game after him. There are some differences, but there are also a lot of similarities. I've said it since I was 16, he was the guy that was always on TV in California. He was the perfect guy for me to watch because I got to see at 16 years old how a tight end should play. I have the ultimate respect for him, and we have a good relationship. I wish he didn't play for the Cowboys, but it was fun playing against him too for a couple of years."
Ertz has 93 catches this year. He needs 17 to tie and 18 to break Witten's record for catches in a season by a tight end.
Tony Gonzalez (1,233) and Witten (1,151) are also the only tight ends ever with 1,000 career receptions.
Ertz, with 21 more catches these last four games, will have the most catches in history by a tight end in his first six seasons. Jimmy Graham (434) and Witten (429) currently have the most. Ertz is third with 414.
The Eagles face the Cowboys at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium in a game they desperately need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Witten retired after the 2017 season and is now a color analyst on Monday Night Football.
Witten played 15 years in the NFL but Ertz is the only player he ever gave his jersey to.
In 15 years, I gave away my jersey after a game one time. Zach Ertz earned my respect- not only one of the best all-around at the position in our game, but handles his business the right way. The impact we have on others- it matters. Best of luck to you @ZERTZ_86 https://t.co/VwCFRz0Hg1— Jason Witten (@JasonWitten) May 19, 2018
"He told me in the past, it wasn't because he was my favorite tight end growing up," Ertz said. "He said it was because he really respected the way I played the game and how I was always trying to get better.
"He said he was watching my game from the moment I came into the league, and that I was one of the guys he would study in the offseason. Being the only guy he's traded a jersey with is honestly special. Obviously, everyone knows how I feel about him. I'm excited for the game in Dallas."
Ertz, also as active in the community as any NFL player through his Ertz Family Foundation, has already had a remarkable career, with over 400 catches in just six seasons along with two of the biggest plays in the Super Bowl — a 4th-down catch and the game-winning TD later on the same drive.
If he can break Witten's single-season record for tight ends it would be yet another remarkable accomplishment and one that would have special meaning for both Ertz and Witten.
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