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Zach Ertz Aims To Be Best-Ever Eagles TE

Posted Jun 8, 2017

The numbers say that Zach Ertz has been one of the NFL’s very best tight ends in his time as an Eagle. He’s got the eighth-most receptions and receiving yards among the league’s tight ends since 2013. Ertz’s 5.57 catches per game ranked first among NFL tight ends and his receiving yards per game ranked fourth. So why is it ...

The numbers say that Zach Ertz has been one of the NFL’s very best tight ends in his time as an Eagle.

He’s got the eighth-most receptions and receiving yards among the league’s tight ends since 2013. Ertz’s 5.57 catches per game rank first among NFL tight ends and his receiving yards per game rank fourth. So why is it that some opinions aren’t quite on board with all of the statistics?

“I think the catches and the yards are there; the touchdowns are not,” Ertz said. “It’s something I’m definitely working on with Carson (Wentz, quarterback), the red zone, being more efficient when the ball is in the air. Getting the target numbers up in the red zone is something I need to make happen and I’m working hard each and every day to do that. I need to get it done.”

Ertz has more catches and receiving yards gained than any Eagles tight end in his first four seasons. Year over year, the numbers have grown – from 36 in 2013 to 58 in '14 to 75 in ’15 to 78 last year – and the consistency in catching the football and running precise routes has improved. Ertz has worked really, really hard on becoming a complete tight end and make himself, under the tutelage of tight ends coach Justin Peelle, a better in-line blocker at the line of scrimmage.

"I'm proud of the way Zach has worked to become a complete player," tight end Brent Celek said. "He's got a lot more confidence in everything he's doing. He's a willing and able blocker who wants to be great in everything that he does. He's come such a long way, and you see how much better he's getting on the field every day."

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Pete Retzlaff played for the Eagles from 1956-66 and in those 11 seasons he caught 452 passes, a number that stands as the best among franchise tight ends. Retzlaff was from a different era at 6-1, 211 pounds. He made five Pro Bowls, is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, and was one of the dominating players of his era.

Retzlaff is the standard for the franchise. Ertz, with 247 receptions is four seasons, is taking aim.

“I haven’t thought much about the numbers or where I rank, but, yeah, someday I want to have those numbers,” he said. “By the end of my career, that’s definitely one of the goals I have marked on my goal sheet: By the time I’m done here, to have all the tight end records.”

Ertz is, as the Eagles look at their offensive depth chart for 2017, a hugely key piece of the equation. Ertz has a chance to be even more involved in the passing game with the addition of more offensive weapons.

“Zach is a big part of what we do. We can move him around the formation, which he did quite a bit last year, and he can help us create matchups,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “We want to get the ball to Zach. Good things happen when he has the football in his hands.”

Ertz ranks seventh among NFL tight ends in first downs gained since 2013, another testament to the power of his play. He has been able to move the chains and the Eagles have certainly given him a chance to make plays in his four seasons here.

Yet, there is always the ask for more, more, more. Ertz has size and he has excellent hands and he creates passing windows. Where he has not been stellar, statistically, is in the red zone – Ertz has 13 career touchdowns, including four in 2016 – and that is an area to beef up this year.

“No question we have to be better in the red zone,” Reich said of an offense that ranked 24th in the league last year in touchdown efficiency inside opponents’ 20-yard lines. “Zach is part of that puzzle. Adding players like Alshon (Jeffery, wide receiver) and Torrey Smith (wide receiver) will help us and give Carson more options. We’ve got some size there. We’ve got more playmakers.”

Ertz says that having Wentz at quarterback for a second straight season will make a difference, and it’s hard to argue. Ertz started his career with Nick Foles at quarterback, then it was Mark Sanchez, followed by Sam Bradford, and now Wentz.

The chemistry between Ertz and Wentz has grown, and they really bonded from November 1 through the end of the 2016 season, connecting for 63 pass completions. Only Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson (66) had more in that period of time.

A strong spring, with only next week’s mandatory minicamp remaining, has enhanced their relationship on and off the field.

“It’s nice to have the same quarterback and to get on the same page with Carson. It’s been a roller coaster for me the first few years, not really knowing who the quarterback is going to be,” Ertz said. “We’re taking a lot of steps together and that is the thing that has really stuck out for me this spring. He’s seeing the game the same way I’m seeing it. It’s comfortable knowing that before each and every play we’re seeing the same thing.”

Ertz amassed a career-best 78 receptions last year despite suffering a displaced rib injury in the opening-day win against Cleveland and then missing two games. He didn’t get into his groove until November, and then he took off.

That season, the hope is, served as a catapult to something special moving forward.

“The injury was a setback and it took some time to get my confidence back. It was a week-by-week thing,” Ertz said. “I thought I improved. Carson and I got on the same page. I thought I had a decent year.”

The goal is to be much more than “decent” this season, to increase the bond with Wentz, and to score more touchdowns. The two have clicked throughout the spring. Great things appear to be very much ahead for the combination of Wentz to Ertz.

“I think we’re feeling like we are connected,” Ertz said, “and the goal is to keep it that way.”

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