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Chip Kelly hardly needed to watch film on Zach Ertz. He had seen plenty of the Stanford tight end in person.
Kelly, the former Oregon head coach, still hasn’t gotten past the controversial touchdown Ertz caught last November, a 10-yard haul that tied the game with 95 seconds to play and eventually sent the Ducks to their only loss and knocked them out of the national title scene.
Ertz, who scorched Kelly’s Ducks for 106 yards on 11 receptions, bobbled the ball and appeared to land out of the end zone as he reeled in the catch. Officials first ruled him out of bounds but changed the call after review.
“I did not agree with the call,” Kelly said Friday, after grabbing Ertz with the 35th overall pick. “And when I saw Zach at the Combine I told him that. He actually sent me a note thanking me for talking to him at the Combine and he put a P.S. in there and told me it was a catch.
“When we talked to him on the phone [before the pick] I told him I guess it was a catch, now that we’re on the same side.”
Kelly considers Ertz (see profile) the perfect match for the fast-paced, multi-dimensional spread offense he's trying to adapt from Oregon into the NFL in his first year as the Eagles’ new head coach.
With an emphasis on versatility and schematic mismatches, Kelly plans to exploit Ertz’s strengths the way Stanford did. Ertz reeled in 112 career passes for 1,434 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Cardinal despite starting just nine games.
Kelly called Ertz “a mismatch nightmare.”
“He did everything,” Kelly said. “They used him in a multiple variety. They used him as a single receiver in a trip set. He was by himself, isolated on a [defensive back]. They used him as a tight end. They used him as an H-back. They moved him all over the place. You could never isolate him on one certain spot.
“Whenever he got the mismatch, he created and made plays. That’s what he’s done his whole career, and I didn’t relish coaching against him, and I’m very, very happy he’s on our sidelines.”
The Eagles already had veteran tight end Brent Celek and recently signed James Casey away from the Texans in free agency, but Kelly isn’t grooming Ertz for the future. He doesn’t keep fullbacks on his roster and plans to play three tight ends frequently, often in the same formation.
“Yeah. I go like that,” he said, holding up three fingers, “and three tight ends go into the game. Now, if [the opponents] go three linebackers, we split [the tight ends] out, we throw passes. If they go three DBs, we smash you [with the run]. So pick your poison.”
“Simple game. You guys thought coaching was hard? They bring little guys in, we run the ball. They bring big guys in, you throw the ball.”
Ertz, a California native who grew up in the East Bay and was mentored by former 49ers Pro Bowl tight end Brent Jones, played in a tight end-heavy system at Stanford, coached first by now-Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and then by Harbaugh’s assistant David Shaw, a former Eagles coaching intern.
The Cardinal frequently employ three tight ends and last year sent Coby Fleener to the Colts in the second round.
“All three of us were huge complements to one another,” Ertz said via conference call. “And I know we have two other great tight ends on the roster with Brent Celek and James Casey, and I’m just looking forward to meeting those guys and going out there and competing.”
Ertz thought he might be headed for a reunion with Harbaugh, who picked one spot ahead of the Eagles at 34th overall. But the Niners traded the pick to Tennessee, who had lost tight end Jared Cook in free agency and also figured to have Ertz high on its draft board.
When the Titans instead took wide receiver Justin Hunter, Kelly felt fortunate to draft the team’s best prospect left on the board.
“Ertz was our top choice going in,” Kelly said. “We just had our fingers crossed that we could get through the two picks ahead of us to get to him.”
Despite the team’s struggles on defense over the years, the Eagles used their first two picks on offensive players, sticking at their initial spot each time. At fourth overall on Thursday night they took Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson and then bypassed quarterback Geno Smith, someone they privately worked out and scouted heavily, to add Ertz.
Even with Smith still out there at the time, Kelly said the Eagles received no phone calls from other teams looking to deal up.
“We did not have any trade options,” Kelly said.
Kelly admitted that he didn’t see a tremendous gulf between Ertz and some of the other remaining tight end prospects, such as San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar (who went 12 picks later) and Rice’s Vance McDonald (55th overall).
The Eagles scouted several top-rated tight ends heavily throughout the pre-draft process. Several weeks ago, they sent tight ends coach Ted Williams out to Palo Alto for a private workout with Ertz.
“That was a great workout,” Ertz recalled. “Coach Williams did a great job showing me the ropes. I learned a lot from him and I’m really looking forward to learning more.”
As far as the controversial touchdown from last season, Ertz said his note to Kelly after the Combine still stands.
“When I first walked into the meeting room with him [in Indianapolis], he asked me if I thought it was a catch,” Ertz recalled, “and I said, ‘Of course it was a catch.’ And he said, ‘All right, well, the film doesn’t lie.’”
“I think one of the things you have to do in life is write handwritten notes. That says a lot about you. And at the end of the day, I just wanted to remind him what happened when we played against him and make sure that I got the last laugh.”
Ertz, a finalist for the Mackey Award that goes to the nation’s top collegiate tight end, earned third-team All-America honors. He averaged nearly 13 yards per reception and made the first-team All-Pac 12 conference.
He became the highest tight end drafted by the Eagles since they took Keith Jackson in the first round of the 1988 draft and the third-highest-drafted tight end in team history.
Ertz, who patterns his game after Cowboys’ eight-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten, said he enters the league at the perfect time, when two-tight end offenses have become one of the new trends.
“It’s great,” he said. “I see some of these guys like Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten, some of those guys, being complete tight ends and being huge mismatches in the passing game, and I think I’m just looking forward to showing off what I can do at the next level.”