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.”

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.

"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.

"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."

Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.

"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.

"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."

Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.

"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.

"I think it kind of got worded wrong."

Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.

And honestly, they might have a point.

The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.

"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.

"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.

"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."

Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.

Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.

"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.

"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."

"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.

"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."

Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.

"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."

"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.

"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."

Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.

"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.

"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.

"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."

That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.

"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.

"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."

With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.

It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.

"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”