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Making Jump To Elite Level Key For Ertz

Posted Feb 15, 2017

In many ways, Zach Ertz’s 2016 campaign was a microcosm of the Eagles’ season as a whole. There were ups and downs, including a fast start, a midseason lull, and a strong finish.

Entering Training Camp, many fans asked if 2016 was the year that Ertz would become a breakout, elite tight end in the NFL. His numbers ended up strong. For the first time in his four-year career, Ertz led the Eagles in receiving yards with 816, averaging 10.5 yards per catch. But thanks to an early-season rib displacement injury, suffered during the season-opening win over Cleveland, he missed two games and his productivity was limited for the majority of the first half of the season. Ertz caught just 15 passes through the Eagles’ first seven games.

But when his injury was finally behind him, Ertz took his game to another level. From Week 8 on, Ertz caught 63 passes for over 660 yards and four touchdowns. He had at least nine catches in three of the Eagles’ final five games, including a 13-grab performance in the finale against Dallas.

Health played a huge role in Ertz’s strong finish, but so too did his relationship with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.

“I think we’re really excited about it,” Ertz said after the season in regards to his budding chemistry with Wentz. “I’ve had five quarterbacks in four years and it’s hard, obviously, to build that trust and that chemistry consistently with the quarterback if they’re getting shipped out of here. But when Carson was drafted, I think that’s what made us so excited as skill position players, knowing that we were finally going to be able to build that chemistry with one quarterback for a very long time, so I think guys are really excited about it.”

Throughout his career, Ertz has consistently put up better numbers as the calendar rolls into the later months of the season. In December and January games, Ertz has totaled 157 catches and racked up 1,339 yards to go along with nine touchdowns. Whether the Eagles are in the playoff hunt during the home stretch, as they were in 2013-14, or out of the running late, as they were the past two seasons, Ertz has always put his best foot forward late in the year.

“You can say what you want about the last two games, but no games are meaningless to us. As players, we’re promised 16 games on the schedule, and we’re going to go out there and make the most of them each and every week," Ertz said.

“I’m focused on going out there and making plays whether it’s September or January. I love the game of football, so if there’s an opportunity to go out there and show what I can do, I’m going to do it. Honestly, each and every week is a job interview for us as a player, so I think guys have to go out there and lay it all on the line each and every game.”

But now the key for Ertz moving into 2017 is the same as it’s been the past few seasons – finding ways to improve enough to make that jump into the echelon of elite tight ends in the NFL, carrying the previous year's momentum into the new year. He’s taken steps to get there. In 2016, there were only three teams in the NFL whose leading receiver was a tight end – the Eagles, Chiefs (Travis Kelce), and Panthers (Greg Olsen). Kelce and Olsen finished one and two, respectively, in the league in terms of tight end receiving yards. Ertz finished fifth, and now with a full offseason ahead to work out with Wentz, the sky is truly the limit for him as he enters Year 5. He’s focused on improving his overall game.

“We’re just stacking the bricks each and every day with each other, in between reps and practice periods, after practice - there was so much going into the success that we had in the last part of the season and it’s definitely reassuring when things start to work out in that way,” Ertz said.

“Just building that chemistry with Carson, (that’s) first and foremost, being on the same page each and every play against each and every defense. There were times early on when we weren’t necessarily on the same page and it showed in the chemistry that we had and the catches and targets that we had earlier in the year. And then (I’d like to improve on) just consistently blocking. This was the first time I ran 80 or 90 percent of the plays (85.4 percent in the 14 games he played), so just getting comfortable with that, and yards after the catch is always something that hasn’t really come naturally to me in the past, but I’ve watched a lot of film to try to improve that aspect of my game. I think I took a step in the right direction the last couple of weeks.”

Ertz has taken those steps, but now he’s ready to make a leap. 

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