Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move. [ Part 1: Jeremy Maclin ][ Part 2: Darren Sproles ]

There was a lot of talk about how prevalent the tight end position was going to be in Chip Kelly’s offense when the head coach first arrived in Philadelphia. The Eagles quickly signed James Casey to a free-agent contract, then proceeded to spend the 35th overall pick on Zach Ertz out of Stanford.

We even saw a formation that put as many as four tight ends on the field at one time in a preseason game.

Once the regular season got underway though, Kelly didn’t go as heavy on tight ends as many presumed he would. The Eagles used 11 personnel—one back, one tight end, three wide receivers—roughly 75 percent of the time in 2013, often more than that earlier in the year.

It’s safe to say there should be an increase in the use of tight ends moving forward, if for no other reason than out of necessity. The Birds will surely draft a receiver, but there’s no telling how much a rookie will be ready to contribute from day one, and while there are some viable No. 3 candidates already on the roster, likely nobody that absolutely must be on the field.

Of course, the expansion of the tight ends’ role in Kelly’s offense should also be organic to an extent. The simple fact of the matter is Ertz demands more playing time based on his performance down the stretch last season.

In nine games from November on through the playoffs, Ertz was a beast, pulling down 25 receptions for 290 yards (11.6 AVG) and five touchdowns. Bear in mind he was still playing fewer than 50 percent of the offensive snaps, while games such as the Snow Bowl and a 54-11 blowout of the Chicago Bears naturally made for fewer opportunities to have an impact.

Ertz’s emergence in the second half came as no surprise. He’s an obvious matchup problem at 6’5”, 250 pounds with 4.68 speed—a smooth route-runner as well, particularly for a first-year player.

There’s no limit to what Kelly can do with Ertz in his offense. He can line up as a traditional in-line tight end or in the slot, as has become popular around the league. There were even instances where Ertz was lined up outside the numbers.

The key is getting Ertz on the field, only not necessarily at the expense of Brent Celek. While the seven-year veteran experienced a dramatic dip in overall production, he made his presence felt as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, particularly in the running game.

And although Celek’s 32 receptions and 502 yards were his lowest since taking over as starter, it wasn’t apparent that was due to any decline in his ability. 15.7 yards per reception was a personal best by over two yards, six touchdowns the second-highest total of his career.

With Jackson out of the picture, and no clear-cut No. 3 receiver, there is definitely room for both Celek and Ertz in the offense going forward.

Ertz wound up finishing the ’13 campaign with 36 catches, 469 yards and four touchdowns, which is better than all but a handful of active tight ends can say for their rookie seasons. Those numbers compare favorably and in most cases are better than the likes of Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis when they were pups, to name a few.

Not bad company. Not bad at all.

To be fair, it’s impossible to project exactly what Ertz’s ceiling is or exactly what type of figures he’ll post next season. Just because a player had a better rookie year than some multi-time Pro Bowlers/Hall of Fame types doesn’t guarantee he’ll ascend to that level himself.

That being said, if last season was any indication, Ertz has the potential to make a push for the 1,000-yard mark and/or double-digit touchdowns. All he needs is the opportunity, which it seems obvious he’ll have… and then some.

NFL clears Peyton Manning of HGH allegations

NFL clears Peyton Manning of HGH allegations

NEW YORK -- The NFL says it found no credible evidence that Peyton Manning was provided with HGH or other prohibited substances as alleged in a documentary by Al-Jazeera America last fall.

The league said the quarterback and his wife fully cooperated in the seven-month investigation, providing interviews and access to all records sought by investigators. Manning vehemently denied the allegations when they were made late in the season.

Manning retired from the NFL a month after Denver's 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50.

The NFL is continuing its investigation into allegations made against other NFL players in the documentary, which the league said involves "different lines of inquiry and witnesses."

Eagles CB Jalen Mills rocks a green hairdo, says he kind of likes it

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Eagles CB Jalen Mills rocks a green hairdo, says he kind of likes it

Seventh-round draft pick Jalen Mills was one of the standouts of the Eagles' offseason program, quickly climbing the depth chart and impressing on the field. But on the first day of training camp, the rookie cornerback stood out for a far different reason.

As you can see, Mills' hair is green.

The LSU product turned some heads and even got a few chuckles from onlookers. Don't expect that to persuade him to go back to a more conventional look anytime soon though. Mills said he got the color done about a week ago and thinks he'll stick with it.

"Just joking with one of my friends," Mills said of how the new hairdo came about. "Then the joke, I actually came through and I actually kind of like it a little bit, so I'm gonna keep it for sure."

As for Mills' teammates, well, they've got jokes too. Let's just say the green hair has inspired some new nicknames for the first-year defensive back.

"Green Goblin. The Joker. I've heard Lime Green Skittle. Starburst," Mills said, rattling off some of the nicknames going around the locker rom. "I've been getting an earful."

Of course, Mills isn't the first Eagles player or even defensive back to sport team pride by changing the color of his locks. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie showed up to training camp with a green stripe in his hair back in 2012.

Hopefully it works out better for Mills than it did DRC, who went on to have a disastrous season. Fortunately, the 22-year-old seems to have his head on straight and is not merely vying for a roster spot, but perhaps serious playing time this season.

Mills opened up the first day of training camp with rookies and selected veterans by breaking up several passes, building on a strong offseason that saw him working with the first-team defense as the nickel corner. As for how he's gone from late-round pick to in the mix so fast, Mills credits hard work, along with his coaches and teammates.

"Just being focused and being determined," said Mills. "We've got a great coaching staff helping me, great players in the defensive back room as well, just everybody being able to help me put my first step forward.

"I'm really trying to give my all for this team and it's showing through."

It's showing through quite literally at the moment.

Video of Joel Embiid arm wrestling Justin Bieber exists

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Video of Joel Embiid arm wrestling Justin Bieber exists

He may or may not have crossed paths with Rihanna or Kim K. just yet but Philadelphia 76ers social media sensation Joel Embiid locked arms with pop star Justin Bieber over the weekend in a Los Angeles night club.

According to social media reports, Embiid and the Biebs actually competed in an arm wrestling battle at Hyde night club in L.A. It's unclear if Embiid allowed Bieber to win or not.

If you missed Embiid ripping his shirt off and dunking on fools or praising Sam Hinkie as a GOAT over the weekend as well, surely you'll want to check those out as well.