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.

The Sixers are for real (and Sam Hinkie had nothing to do with it)

The Sixers are for real (and Sam Hinkie had nothing to do with it)

The biggest sports story in town in the Sixers, winners of 4 of 5 and an exhilarating team on the floor, led by a superstar player who seems to actually get us as a fan base. And to think, all it took to bring us to this point was getting rid of Sam Hinkie.

Look at what a dark place the Sixers were in a year ago. They were in last place, with the league’s worst roster and no hope for the future except for a bunch of ill-defined future draft picks. And they were led by a general manager with absolutely zero interest in winning, explaining himself, or (worst of all) appearing on the WIP Morning Show. 

But now, there’s hope. Joel Embiid is the real deal. The supporting cast is rapidly improving, with guys like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington and Dario Saric looking like valuable supporting players, and Ben Simmons joining them very soon. 

I know the Hinkie apologists are going to say these improvements are because of him and that he deserves credit -- please. To credit Hinkie with drafting Joel Embiid is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in all my years of watching Philadelphia sports. We all know Hinkie wanted Andrew Wiggins -- therefore, he gets no credit for drafting Embiid. And as Bob Brookover pointed out last week, Embiid is a Sixer because of luck.  

Ben Simmons, of course, was drafted by Bryan Colangelo, who also acquired the best Sixer since Thaddeus Young, Ersan Ilyasova. And if the two first-round picks next year turn out to be stars, Colangelo will get credit for those, too

Hinkie did things like draft three centers in a  row, take Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis, trade valuable players like Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels for nothing, and sign no veterans at all for three years. 

Joel Embiid is a winner, Sam Hinkie is a loser, and that’s all there is to it.  

In other Sixers news, it was nice to see Simmons warming up on the court last week against Boston- when Embiid did that, it meant he was 16-18 months away from returning to action. In the last two years, the Sixers lead the league in pre-game social media posts featuring players who aren’t active for that night’s game. 

And speaking of records, congrats to Nerlens Noel for breaking Shane Victorino’s longstanding local athlete record for use of “you know” in a single interview, when he talked to Woj last week

Other Philly sports takes: 

The Cowboys’ loss to the Packers on Sunday proves two things: Dak Prescott is a fraud, and the Cowboys were never very good anyway. The only reason they went 13-3 was the easy schedule. 

Can you believe Allen Iverson getting photographed in a Cowboys jersey? Doesn’t he know the rules? If you play in Philly, you must root for every one of the city’s teams, regardless of circumstance, for the rest of your life. 

Even so, shame on the Knicks’ Derrick Rose for no-showing a game. If you want to be a legendary NBA guard, you’re supposed to skip PRACTICES, not games. Not a game. 

Angelo made a good point: Embiid is so perfect as a Philadelphia athlete that it makes me notice how much Carson Wentz isn’t. Hunting trips? Shotgun gifts? Getting locked in a gas station bathroom? That’s just not cutting it. Carson, immediately, needs to start drinking Shirley Temples, imitating pro wrestler entrances, and insulting porn stars on Instagram, or else I fear he won’t last in this town. 

Another good column by Marcus Hayes -- the Eagles must sacrifice multiple draft picks to trade up for wide receiver Mike Williams. Whatever it takes. 

Come on Eagles- no room on the staff for either of Buddy’s sons? How about both? 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. 

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

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Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

At 16-2-1, Penn State's men's hockey team is ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions have improved each of the last four years under head coach Guy Gadowsky. 

Their record by year:

      2013-14: 8-26-2
      2014-15: 18-15-4
Last season: 21-13-4
This season: 16-2-1

Penn State received 30 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO Division I poll. Denver is ranked No. 2, followed by Boston University, Minnesota-Duluth and Massachusetts-Lowell (see USCHO poll).

Penn State was ranked fourth last week before sweeping Michigan State.