PHILADELPHIA – Some rookies are overwhelmed by their first exposure to the NFL. Others thrive in the new environment and can’t wait to get even better.
Zach Ertz is one of the latter players. A second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, the tight end from Stanford missed much of the offseason work because his college graduated later than most schools. This summer, Ertz is way ahead of where he was at this time last year.
“I’m so much more confident this year than I was last year,” Ertz said. “Last year, I was kind of feeling my way through the first preseason game, where this year is going to be attacking from the get-go. That’s the difference.”
The get-go is Friday night, when the Eagles open their preseason against the Chicago Bears. Ertz said he’s looking forward to working against someone other than Eagles teammates Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
“I’m looking forward to that first hit,” Ertz said. “Hopefully I’m delivering that hit and not getting my clock cleaned. I’m hoping to make some plays in both the pass game and the run game. That’s all I’m focused on.”
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ertz played in every game as a rookie. He came on stronger in the second half, after the quarterback shuffle was over and after head coach Chip Kelly had a better feel for his players’ abilities.
“Luckily, I did get my number called the second half of the year, often, and I think I made the most of my opportunities,” Ertz said. “We’ve got a lot of playmakers on this offense, whether it’s the receivers, running backs or right ends. Chip’s a heck of an offensive mind and he’s going to put the best players out there. Last year, the second half of the season, nobody could really stop us. That’s kind of the mentality we have this season.”
Brent Celek remains the starting tight end, but Ertz has worked hard to improve his run blocking. That could force Kelly to get him on the field more.
“I think the run-blocking part of my game is developing,” Ertz said, “and as long as I continue to progress in that area, it’s going to be a matter of time. I’ve been working with the twos right now, to get as many reps as possible. Same with Brent. They want to get us as many reps as possible. The depth chart is what it is right now. I’m comfortable playing in the slot and I’m getting more comfortable playing in line.”
It is a measure of how well Kelly’s approach to developing young players works that Ertz grew both in confidence and in knowledge in Year 1. He sounds excited to see what comes next, and figures to be a big part of it.
“Last year, that first preseason game, so many emotions built up into that first game in the Linc,” Ertz said. “Just having a whole year under my belt – playing big games, playing in playoff games, there is a huge difference in mentality than there was last year.
“The first half of the season, we were 3-5, so we weren’t too optimistic after those games. But expectations are high. We’re going to put the burden on ourselves. Looking at myself, nobody’s going to put more pressure on themselves than me. I think that’s the same for a lot of guys out here.”