Eagles

Zach Ertz continues to produce despite unfair perception about toughness

Zach Ertz continues to produce despite unfair perception about toughness

Zach Ertz caught eight passes Sunday and put his head down and thundered forward for as many yards as he could pick up after all eight receptions.

And if that's not good enough for you?

If you still have your mind made up that Ertz is soft? Even after missing just two games last year with a torn pectoral muscle?

There's not much anybody can say or do to prove you wrong.

"You always want to be aggressive and be physical and be smart," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. "But I've played with a lot of great players who will step out of bounds rather than take a hit when they know they've got the first down.

"I mean, great players. Barry Sanders? He never took a hit on the sidelines. No one ever called him a coward.

"Sometimes you have to be smart, too."

If you haven't been paying attention, Ertz has been a different player since the Cincinnati game last year, when fans jumped all over him for a play near the sideline where he appeared to avoid contact.

"I remember after that Cincinnati game, there were multiple times of him being aggressive," Reich said. "It's always a fine line. There is a time [and place]."

Even though Ertz has been one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history through four seasons, he's never really gained widespread appreciation among Eagles fans, some of whom would rather see a guy run into a brick wall without a helmet to prove his toughness than making a catch down the field and run out of bounds to protect his body.

Ertz has actually been both. Smart and physical.

"You've got to sometimes sacrifice your body and lay it out, but I've never questioned Zach in that regard," Reich said.

"Zach plays to win. Zach's a winner. He plays aggressive, he runs his routes aggressive, he's aggressive to the ball, and I've never thought anything other than that."

Ertz caught eight passes for 93 yards Sunday in the Eagles' win over the Redskins at FedEx Field. He was targeted eight times and caught all eight passes.

In his last 16 games, the equivalent of a full season, he now has 95 catches for 1,061 yards and four touchdowns.

Since opening day of last year, only Travis Kelce of the Chiefs, who the Eagles will see this weekend, has more catches among NFL tight ends than Ertz. Kelce has 90, Ertz 86.

"I thought we had a good start," Ertz said. "There's some stuff we can improve on, not only me and Carson (Wentz) but as an offense. We weren't 100 percent. But it was a good start.

"I thought there were plays I got covered I shouldn't have and plays I was open and he missed me, but all that matters are wins, and it's very rewarding to get off to a fast start."

Ertz's 255 career catches are eighth most in NFL history by a tight end through 62 games. His eight catches Sunday led all NFL tight ends on opening weekend, and his 93 yards were second most.

Ertz, who played with Nick Foles and Michael Vick as a rookie, Foles and Mark Sanchez in 2014, Sam Bradford in 2015 and Wentz last year, said the luxury of having Wentz back for a second year is huge.

"It's great to have the same quarterback going into another year," he said. "Obviously, it's one game and we're trying to stack them each week. [But] 8 for 8 is where you want to be, you can't get much better than that."

With the Eagles' outside speed, the middle of the field should be open all year for Ertz.

The franchise record is 90 catches by Brian Westbrook in 2007. Ertz needs to average 5½ receptions the rest of the year to break that.

Honestly, it'll be surprising if he doesn't (assuming he stays healthy).

"They connected and had pretty good chemistry pretty quickly and that's just growing," Reich said of Ertz and Wentz.

"I think that chemistry is growing as an offensive unit, but not just those two guys, but everyone knows Zach is a key playmaker for us and we count on him every week to do that."

5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

eagles_5_guys.jpg
AP Images

5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

As the Eagles wrapped up their spring practices last week, head coach Doug Pederson was asked for a list of young players who stood out over the last few weeks. 

It was a pretty good list (see story)

But with a limited amount of time, Pederson probably didn’t mention every young player who had a good spring. I’m gonna give him a hand and list five more players he failed to mention. 

De’Vante Bausby 
This guy was the revelation of the spring. He joined the Eagles’ practice squad last season but seemingly has a great shot to make the active roster this year. During many OTA practices and in minicamp, the 25-year-old took first-team reps at the nickel corner spot. I still have trouble believing that Bausby is going to be on the field ahead of Sidney Jones, but that doesn’t take away from how good he’s looked so far. Aside from just getting first-team reps, he made the most of them. It seemed like he was making a play every day. 

Nate Sudfeld
This was really our first extended look at Sudfeld, but it’s far from our last. In fact, prepare yourselves to see a ton of the third-stringer this summer. Because while Carson Wentz recovers, Sudfeld is Nick Foles’ backup. And the Eagles need to treat Foles like a starter, which means fewer reps. Sudfeld didn’t come to the Eagles until after last cuts a year ago. This spring, it was easy to see why the Eagles like Sudfeld so much. He’s pretty athletic, can move his legs, and spent the few weeks dropping dimes all over the field. Eventually, Foles is going to move on and Sudfeld should be able to take the backup role. 

Bryce Treggs
Remember when Treggs-mania took over Philadelphia in 2016? Fans were clamoring for more of Treggs after he made that one big catch. Since then, that mania has certainly died down, but Treggs is off to a good start in 2018. He’s a much better player than he was a few years ago. To me, he made the best play we saw all spring, when he stretched out to catch one of those dimes from Sudfeld. Treggs doesn't have a great shot of making the Eagles’ roster, but he can put together some more good tape and maybe find another team. 

Nate Gerry 
In his second season out of Nebraska, Gerry has a real chance to win the weakside linebacker job. He’s battling Kamu Grugier-Hill and Corey Nelson for the spot left by Mychal Kendricks’ release. And Gerry is off to a good start. Having a year in the defense under his belt should certainly help him gain an edge on Nelson, but he still needs to make plays. In the spring, he did. He had a couple interceptions and seemed to read everything well. His background as a safety is clearly something the Eagles like for this position; the other two guys have coverage skills too. 

Josh Sweat
It’s a little tough for defensive ends to stand out in non-padded practices, but the rookie from Florida State did. The first thing to notice about Sweat is just how big he is. He’s listed at 6-5, 251. For now, he’s really long and skinny, but is quick and athletic too. It helped him going against someone as raw as Jordan Mailata, but even when he was facing others, Sweat still looked explosive. We’ll know more once the pads go on, but it seems like the Eagles might have a steal and somehow added even more depth on the D-line. 

More on the Eagles

Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Carson Wentz has done some of his best work behind closed doors, far from any TV cameras or adoring fans, with just a trainer or two and maybe a few teammates in the room.

While Nick Foles has enjoyed the banquet circuit these last few months and all that comes with being Super Bowl MVP — national TV appearances, a book deal, life as a celebrity — the guy he replaced has had a pretty good offseason himself.

It’s just that nobody has seen it.

For Wentz to do what he did at these spring minicamps — compete in a variety of individual and team drills and look comfortable, fluid and confident six months after hobbling off the field at LA Coliseum with a towel covering his head — speaks volumes about this kid.

We know he’s a competitor on the field. We’ve all seen it. But rehabbing a shredded knee is different.

Throw a touchdown pass, and you instantaneously hear 66,000 fans roaring their approval.

Extend your range of motion by one degree and you get a trainer telling you, “Good. Now do it again 50 times.”

We can talk all day and night about how Wentz has attacked his rehab, but now we’re seeing the fruits of his labor. And it’s impressive.

It takes a certain type of motivation and determination to keep grinding away when nobody is cheering you on and the moments of true progress are fleeting and measured in millimeters.

We saw Wentz out there at practice taking five-step drops, firing dimes to Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor in 7-on-7s and sprinting the length of the field under the midday sun.

What we never saw is what it took to get there.

It’s been about six months since Wentz tore his ACL and LCL.

That means probably about 150 days where Wentz has driven from his home in South Jersey to the NovaCare Complex at dawn and pushed himself through hour after hour of drills to regain his strength, his mobility, his speed, his endurance, his agility.

And then he’s back the next day to do it all over again.

We’re so used to athletes getting hurt and rehabbing it’s easy to forget just how grueling it is, and the fact that Wentz has made the progress he has since Dec. 10 is astonishing.

He’s taken that same ferocious competitive spirit we saw the first 29 games of his career and used it to fuel his rehab.

A month ago, there was no reason to think he’d be cleared to do anything at OTAs and there he was running, throwing, competing and looking every bit like the Carson Wentz we watched evolve into a legit MVP candidate the first 14 weeks of last season.

And if that doesn’t mean he’s ahead of schedule, I don’t know what does.

At this point, I’d be shocked if Wentz isn’t the Eagles’ opening day quarterback in 2018.

There’s always the possibility of a setback. Maybe he doesn’t get completely cleared quite in time to face the Falcons on Sept. 6. But the progress he’s made already has to make every Eagles fan feel confident and encouraged.  

Since he got hurt, Wentz has put the same remarkable level of energy and effort into rehabbing that he put into preparing to play football every Sunday.

Think about Wentz’s 2017 season.

Everything was going perfectly. The Eagles were on top of the football world. He was putting up numbers that were unprecedented for anybody other than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Before Foles was on anybody’s mind, the Eagles were a Super Bowl contender.

And then disaster.

We’ve all seen Wentz when things are going well. He blossomed into a superstar in front of our eyes.

But you really learn the most about a person when things aren’t going well. When they face adversity. What are they really about? How will they respond?

Wentz has definitively answered those questions.

We didn’t see Wentz in those long, lonely, arduous rehab sessions, but we can see the results.

While Foles was out winning the Super Bowl and taking all the bows, Wentz was doing everything humanly possible to make sure he’s ready to lead the Eagles to another Super Bowl title this year.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not betting against him.

More on the Eagles