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It was a long day. By his own admission, Zach Ertz likes to sleep – eight hours per night at a minimum, but more if he can find the time.
He slept two hours Sunday evening. Earlier that day, Ertz – a tight end selected by the Eagles in the second round of the draft (35th overall) – graduated from Stanford University. He went for food with his family thereafter, but the celebration didn’t last long. That evening, Ertz hopped a 10:10 p.m. redeye from San Francisco to Philadelphia. He slept for about two hours on the flight, landed shortly after 6 a.m. local time this Monday, went over to his hotel, and then got on a shuttle at 7:15 a.m. to take him to the NovaCare Complex.
The hectic schedule won’t stop any time soon. Because of an NFL rule that prohibits an incoming rookies from participating in OTAs and mini-camp until his class graduates from college, Ertz is still playing catchup with his new team. He’ll spend this week in town before leaving for next Wednesday’s rookie symposium in Ohio. In between, he’ll keep studying the Eagles’ playbook – which he did in between finishing his degree at Stanford.
“I only had three classes left,” Ertz said, “so I was in those three classes.”
While some NFL rookies finish their college days with soft courses that don’t require much mental dexterity – former USC quarterback Matt Leinart took ballroom dancing his senior year -- that’s not how it went for Ertz. His last three classes: bioengineering, optimization, and a senior project that required him to look at graphs to find trends and data on whether to buy or sell stocks. Now he has a degree in management science and engineering, the Stanford equivalent, Ertz said, of industrial engineering.
When he wasn’t in the classroom, Ertz worked out, did yoga several times a week and prepared to start his new job. Ertz is the highest drafted Eagles tight end since the organization took Keith Jackson 13th overall in 1988, and he spent a good portion of his youth being mentored by former 49ers tight end Brent Jones (see story). It’s the kind of background that comes with significant expectations.
Ertz – who is 6-5, 250 pounds - was an All-American during his junior year at Stanford. He had 898 receiving yards in 2012, which led all Stanford pass catchers and all FBS tight ends. He also recorded 69 receptions, tying him for the most among FBS tight ends. Whether he can build on that success in the NFL will be determined, in part, by how much playing time he gets, and how quickly.
Ertz is one of seven tight ends currently on the Eagles' roster, a list that includes Emil Igwenagu, Will Shaw, Clay Harbor, James Casey, Derek Carrier and, most notably, Brent Celek. That’s OK with Ertz. Chip Kelly has repeatedly expressed his fondness for formations with multiple tight ends, and Ertz spent time in a system that utilized several tight ends at once (albeit in a different offensive scheme).
At Stanford, Ertz was often on the field as part of sets that included two or three tight ends. One of those tight ends, Levine Toilolo, was taken in Round 4 (133 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think everyone’s goal is to start Day 1,” Ertz said. “But I played in college with two other great [tight ends]. All successful coaches are going to put the best players on the field, whether it’s three tight ends, three receivers, four receivers. I think with James [Casey] and Brent [Celek], those two guys are amazing players. I just really look forward to getting with them this season and learning from them.
“I think that experience [at Stanford] was very valuable. The offseason is all about competition. The three of us would compete against one another, but once the season rolled around, it was all about the team and we didn’t care about who had the most catches or the most touchdowns. We cared about the wins. I think that situation is going to help me out.”