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 storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

The NFL world will take over Indianapolis again this week for the annual scouting combine. 

This year, the combine is taking place a little later than normal. Instead of late February, this year the combine is happening in early March, very close to free agency. 

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are scheduled to speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon (Roseman at 2:30, Pederson at 2:45) while player interviews with the media begin on Thursday. Player workouts will begin on Friday and run through Monday. 

Flip, flip, hooray?
At some point this week, a very important coin flip will happen in Indy. The Eagles will end up with either the 14th or 15th pick in April's draft based on the outcome. The Colts will get the other. 

This year the Eagles don't own their own first-round pick. The Browns have it at No. 12 thanks to the trade up to get Carson Wentz last year. The Eagles, instead, own the Vikings' first-rounder thanks to the Sam Bradford trade. The Vikings and Colts finished with identical records and strength of schedules, so a coin flip will decide who gets the higher pick -- in this case, the Eagles are the Vikings. 

Either way, the Eagles should have a really good chance to draft a difference-maker. They've had luck before higher than 20 and the recent history at 14/15 bodes well (see story)

In total, the Eagles will have eight draft picks -- the Vikings' first-rounder, their own picks in Rounds 2 through 7 and a fourth-round compensatory pick from the Browns. That pick from the Browns was part of the return from the trade up to No. 2 last year. It would have been a fifth-rounder if the Browns didn't get a compensatory pick, but they got two. The Eagles take the higher one at No. 139 overall. 

Coach talk
On Wednesday, we'll hear from Pederson for the first time since just after the final game of the 2016 season. Pederson didn't have a year-end press conference and didn't speak at the Senior Bowl in Alabama in January. 

There are plenty of questions for Pederson, starting with his coaching staff. Since the season ended, the Eagles fired receivers coach Greg Lewis and hired Mike Groh, who held the same position with the Rams in 2016 and with the Bears from 2013-15. In Mobile, Roseman said any decisions with the coaching staff were all Pederson's, so this will be a chance to find out why the switch was made. 

Another question for Pederson is about quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The Eagles blocked the Jets from interviewing DeFilippo for their offensive coordinator position. While a report surfaced that this decision was Jeff Lurie's, Roseman repeated the line about Pederson making coaching decisions. 

Finally, Pederson is entering his second year as the Eagles' head coach. Last year, he was trying to put together a coaching staff and install his scheme, but this year that's already done. Has he taken a more active role in personnel and to what extent? 

Roseman in his element
The Eagles don't have a ton of guys who will become unrestricted free agents on March 9, but the biggest name of the bunch is clearly Bennie Logan. The Eagles will have a chance to meet with Logan's agent, Todd France, face to face during the week. They saw France last year too, as he represents Fletcher Cox. 

This situation is a little different, though. Cox wasn't scheduled to become a free agent last year, while Logan is this year. Logan is the Eagles' most significant pending free agent. 

While Roseman can use this week to try to work on deals for his own players, he can also float some trades. Guys like Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and even Jason Kelce could be discussed. 

Weird timing
This year, the NFL schedule has the combine finishing just as the legal tampering window (March 7) is set to begin. So basically, the league is putting front office members and agents in the same city days before free agency kicks off and expects them to not talk about players from other teams. Yeah, OK. In any case, it'll be interesting to see what the new schedule changes in terms of to-be free agent talks.  

Cornering the market
Ahh, yes, the real reason everyone is heading to Indy: the actual players on the field. This year, the prized position in the draft looks like cornerback, which should be good news for the Eagles. You might have noticed they're lacking in that area. 

How deep is the draft for corners and rushers? Well, a former NFL GM tweeted this: 

There are as many as eight cornerbacks who could possibly go in the first round and over a dozen who might go in the first two rounds. Some incredible talent. It's just up to the Eagles to find the right one. 

It might make sense for the Birds take a different position at 14 or 15 and then come back in the second round to draft a corner. After all, with how deep the position is, they're bound to get great value in the second, right? Roseman's answer about this scenario was interesting. He pointed to last year's draft, which was supposed to be very deep at defensive tackle. Roseman thought they could get a second- or third-rounder in the fourth or fifth. 

"And what happened was they all went," Roseman said during Senior Bowl week. "And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."

Helping Carson 
It's not a great year for receivers in the draft, but it's not a bad year either. The top two appear to be Mike Williams and Corey Davis, but there are plenty of good players who will be available throughout the draft. And like at corner, the Eagles need plenty of help. 

Receivers will speak to reporters on Friday and will be on the field working out on Saturday. You'd better believe the Eagles will be watching closely. 

Just a year ago
While the Eagles this year will be focusing on building around Wentz, last year they were just worried about getting him. For a team that still had the 13th pick while in Indy last year, the Eagles sure spent a lot of time with a quarterback who was going to be a very high pick. 

Really, last year in Indy is where picking Wentz started to become a reality. The Eagles spent a ton of time interviewing Wentz and everyone was involved, including Roseman, advisor Tom Donahoe, Jeff Lurie and a renowned sports psychologist. Wentz, for his part, blew them away. 

As the Eagles were falling in love with Wentz, Roseman was working on a way to make it happen. The first step was moving up from 13. The Eagles eventually traded with the Dolphins from 13 to 8. Those trade talks started in the hotel in Indy, where the Eagles were two doors down from the Dolphins. That, plus Roseman's relationship with Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum helped get the deal done. It was the first in a two-step process to secure Wentz as the next franchise quarterback.  

Roseman is more active than most NFL GMs when it comes to making player trades, so don't be surprised if he's back to work this week. 

Eagles pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

Eagles pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

The NFL announced the list of compensatory picks for the 2017 draft and the Eagles weren't awarded any.

They're still going to get one, though. 

Thanks to the trade with the Browns to move up to No. 2 in last year's draft, the Eagles got back a conditional fifth-round pick that has now turned into a fourth. 

Basically, if the Browns received a fourth-round compensatory pick, the Eagles would get it. The Browns were awarded two (Nos. 139 and 142), so the Eagles get one. According to a league source, the Eagles will get No. 139 overall, the higher of the two.  

This is the first year teams are allowed to trade compensatory picks. The Bengals, Browns, Broncos and Chiefs were each awarded four compensatory picks. The highest compensatory pick awarded this year belongs to Miami at No. 97 in the third round. 

The Eagles still don't know where they'll pick in the first round -- either No. 14 or 15. That will be determined by a coin flip next week at the combine in Indianapolis. They have eight draft picks in total.