Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz set for bigger role in Eagles' offense

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Zach Ertz set for bigger role in Eagles' offense

If the Eagles are going to make up for the loss of DeSean Jackson, they need Zach Ertz to live up to expectations. 

Drafted higher (35th overall) than any Eagles tight end since Keith Jackson in 1988, Ertz -- as a rookie -- caught 36 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns last season. In the first half of the season, Ertz had 14 receptions for 201 yards. Second half: 22 for 268. 

The one glaring difference? Touchdowns. All four of his scores came after Week 8.

“I think you kind of saw [what I can do] in the second half of the season,” Ertz said after the Eagles OTA on Monday. “I was used all over the field, so hopefully it’s more of that.”

Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme requires players at the skill positions to be versatile. The Stanford product said he put a “huge emphasis” on his run blocking in the offseason to balance his pass catching ability that he admitted comes more naturally.

Ertz played 40.8 percent of the team’s snaps on offense last year, while starter Brent Celek played 76.5 percent.

Versatility is a necessity for the offense to play at its hallmark fast pace. In 2013, the Eagles went no-huddle 66.5 percent of the time, tops in the NFL, and had the shortest average time of possession per drive at 2:04.

“Brent and myself, I think we can line up all over the field,” Ertz said. “Obviously if you look at the two of us, he’s more of a traditional in-line tight end, but in this offense you have to be able to do both. I think that’s kind of what helps us with the speed of this offense.

“If you want to play fast, you can’t be subbing guys in and out. With the tight ends that we have, we’re able to do that whether it’s in-line or out wide as a receiver.”

Ertz won’t be alone in trying to make up for the production lost by DeSean's departure to D.C.

Jeremy Maclin, who is coming off of a torn ACL, and rookie receiver Jordan Matthews are entering their first full years in Kelly’s system, and Riley Cooper is looking to build on a career year in which he caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns.

At running back, the Eagles added more versatility in the offseason by trading for Darren Sproles and signing him to a three-year, $10.5 million contract.

Sproles, who caught 71 balls out of the backfield with the New Orleans Saints last year, will team up with LeSean McCoy, who had 52 catches for 539 yards on top of his career-high 1,607 yards on the ground.

“We’ve added a lot of new faces on offense, but at the end of the day a lot of the receivers and tight ends are interchangeable,” Ertz said. “Whether it is -- receivers, tight ends or running backs, you have to be able to play all over the field. That’s a big thing for me and everybody else.”

Chris Long Q&A: Charlottesville situation; Doug Pederson's impact; looking up to dad

Chris Long Q&A: Charlottesville situation; Doug Pederson's impact; looking up to dad

This week hasn't been easy for Chris Long.

He's not having difficulty transitioning to a new team in his first season with the Eagles, but his mind has been on his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, where national news has been made because of racial tensions resulting in tragic violence.

Long has made his voice and disappointment heard while focusing on training camp ahead of the 2017 season. The 32-year-old defensive end signed with the Eagles this offseason after winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2016, following eight years with the Rams.

Long sat down with CSN's Quick Slants this week to talk those topics and more. Here's the full conversation:

Quick Slants: The Charlottesville situation. It is where you live right now and I know it hits close to home. Your thoughts on what has gone on down there with all the racial tension?

Long: Well, it's unfortunate, for sure. It's unfortunate to know that subculture exists in America, period. But less importantly, as a resident of Charlottesville, it's really tough to see your city kind of get taken over and for all that hatred to manifest itself right there in your hometown, where you plan on raising your kids and your family, you grew up there. It's a little window I think into what some minorities feel every day, dealing with hate like that. For me, I was just so angry to see it, but this was just one or two days that my hometown's been inundated with hate. I can only imagine what it's like to feel that those people exist all the time.

Quick Slants: OK, on to some football topics now, if you will. You come in here as a 10-year vet. Where you stand right now, do you assume the role of leadership or is that still a role that you defer to other players who have been here longer?

Long: I think leadership roles, it's all about leading by example and leading from the front and playing football. So as far as me being a 10-year guy, I plan on playing a lot and I plan on leading on the field. If guys see the way I work and play, and they want to listen to me, the younger players, that's great — I'm always here to help. But make no mistake about it, I came here to play ball and if I can lead along the way, that's great, but this team's got a lot of great leadership.

Quick Slants: How do you like it here so far?

Long: I really like it. Love the city, love the people I've met. The passion, it's palpable — going down to the Linc, practicing a couple times with that big turnout, I love the atmosphere. And we've got good people on this team. We have good people in the locker room and I enjoy the scheme, that's why I came here. Getting to work with guys like [Brandon Graham], [Fletcher Cox], new guys, [Tim Jernigan] coming in with me, young guy like [Derek Barnett]. We really run the gamut of experience and things we've been able to do in this league, and obviously, it's a lot of fun.

Quick Slants: If you can, give us some similarities and differences between the way Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson coach.

Long: Well, I think comparing coaches is like comparing two different players. Their styles are different, the skills are different and their personalities are different. So everybody's different. I learned so much from Bill, that was a special year for me and it was special to learn from him. I've been blessed to have a lot of good coaches, and now getting to see the way Doug works, and as a former player, he gets a lot of things. He's a good person and a good coach. Just today he asked me, 'How are you doing with everything going on at home?' I thought that was pretty cool. He's got high energy and when he walks in the meeting, he makes everybody feel good about working hard — and obviously, he comes from that background.

Quick Slants: Let's talk numbers here, I know you're chasing your dad (Howie Long), he finished with 84 sacks, you've got 58½. The interesting thing is after nine years, you're actually ahead of him, I think 58-55. He got a lot in his later years, had a nine-sack season at like 33. How inspirational is that to you to think that you can keep going strong, as well, late in your career?

Long: Any time you get to be around players that play into their mid-30s — and I've been lucky enough to play with a couple of guys like that — it inspires you because this game is hard enough. As you get older, it becomes harder and harder, and you have to be more of a pro every day. Listen, numbers don't drive everything I do, but you certainly look at those numbers and you're like, 'Hey, I'd love to chase that.' I'll never beat my pops, he's got the gold jacket, but if I can kind of inch closer, that'd be nice. At 32, you never take anything for granted. It's amazing those guys back in those days, did the two-a-days for a month before preseason. They were really tough.

Quick Slants: One final question for you. I know you're a huge "Game of Thrones" fan. You wrote an article for Sports Illustrated and I thought it was deep. How do you like the way the plot is unfolding right now this season?

Long: We were just talking about this — the show is gripping, man. It's almost like you're mad at the show for leaving it where they leave it every week — they have a really good cliffhanger-way of doing things. I thought last week was cool because they were kind of assembling this dream team and you see all of your favorite characters meeting for the first time — it was pretty special. And you couldn't follow that last episode, which was all action, with more of the same — you knew it had to be a filler, but they did a good job.

Eagles-Bills preseason game: 10 players to watch

Eagles-Bills preseason game: 10 players to watch

The 2017 Eagles will be at home for the first time this preseason.

And the home crowd will get a chance to see some new additions to the team.

Here are 10 players to watch in Eagles-Bills on Thursday night at the Linc (7 p.m./NBC):

Alshon Jeffery 
Doug Pederson said he was leaning toward playing Jeffery in this game after taking it really easy on him throughout training camp. So if Jeffery plays, it'll be his first game with the Eagles. During training camp, he's looked good when he practices. But he missed some time with a shoulder injury and then Pederson put him in bubble wrap for another week or so. Carson Wentz is looking forward to getting on the field with his new weapon. Expect the starters to play just a series or two. 

Ronald Darby 
Darby didn't become an Eagle until Friday, the day after the first preseason game. His counterpart in the trade, Jordan Matthews, won't play for the Bills on Thursday. Matthews suffered a cracked sternum in his first practice in Buffalo. Meanwhile, Darby was thrown in with the first team in his first practice with the Eagles. Based on that, expect him to take the left cornerback spot when the defense first takes the field. 

Marcus Johnson
A hamstring injury kept the young receiver out of the first preseason game and Bryce Treggs performed extremely well in his absence. Johnson has done a lot to earn a roster spot during training camp, but nothing is written in stone, even with the departure of Matthews. Johnson needs to have a good preseason to seal a roster spot. 

Derek Barnett
Barnett's debut was very impressive. He had two sacks and caused problems for the Packers' offensive line. The most impressive thing was the inside move he used to get his first sack against Green Bay. He's been working on that all camp. Let's see if Barnett can keep it going. He's not fighting for a roster spot, but he is fighting for playing time and eventually a starting gig. 

Patrick Robinson
With the addition of Darby and with Ron Brooks out with a hamstring injury, the veteran cornerback has been working in the slot. Expect to see Jalen Mills and Darby start outside and Robinson as the Eagles' nickel cornerback. There's a chance Robinson won't make the 53-man roster; his best chance to stick is to prove he can be good for the team in his new role

Shelton Gibson
Gibson has really turned it around after his terrible start to training camp. He was just awful early on, dropping more passes than he caught. Since then, he's looked like a viable option. But in the first preseason game, he had an egregious drop and that can't happen again. He's a fifth-round pick but is fighting for a spot on the team. 

Donnel Pumphrey 
The fourth-round running back out of San Diego State didn't have a great debut. He looked shaky as a punt returner and couldn't find an inch on offense. The Eagles are hoping those first-game jitters are out of his way. They eventually want to make him Darren Sproles' replacement as a punt returner, but there's a lot of work still to do. 

LeGarrette Blount 
The entire run game never got going against the Packers' blitzing front, so this game is a chance to show the Eagles can be a good run team in 2017. Let's see if Blount really can be more than a short-yardage specialist this season. It's unclear if Wendell Smallwood (hamstring) will play. 

Chance Warmack
Brandon Brooks (ankle) will be a game-time decision, so Warmack might need to start for the second straight game at right guard. His first attempt didn't go well. Remember all that interior O-line depth? Well, Allen Barbre is gone and Warmack doesn't look promising. 

Alex McCalister 
A seventh-round pick last season, McCalister picked up a sack late in the first preseason game but still has a lot of work to do. He's the sixth defensive end on the depth chart and might be fighting Steven Means for a roster spot. He needs to string together a few good games to give himself a good chance.