Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move. [ Part 1: Jeremy Maclin ][ Part 2: Darren Sproles ]

There was a lot of talk about how prevalent the tight end position was going to be in Chip Kelly’s offense when the head coach first arrived in Philadelphia. The Eagles quickly signed James Casey to a free-agent contract, then proceeded to spend the 35th overall pick on Zach Ertz out of Stanford.

We even saw a formation that put as many as four tight ends on the field at one time in a preseason game.

Once the regular season got underway though, Kelly didn’t go as heavy on tight ends as many presumed he would. The Eagles used 11 personnel—one back, one tight end, three wide receivers—roughly 75 percent of the time in 2013, often more than that earlier in the year.

It’s safe to say there should be an increase in the use of tight ends moving forward, if for no other reason than out of necessity. The Birds will surely draft a receiver, but there’s no telling how much a rookie will be ready to contribute from day one, and while there are some viable No. 3 candidates already on the roster, likely nobody that absolutely must be on the field.

Of course, the expansion of the tight ends’ role in Kelly’s offense should also be organic to an extent. The simple fact of the matter is Ertz demands more playing time based on his performance down the stretch last season.

In nine games from November on through the playoffs, Ertz was a beast, pulling down 25 receptions for 290 yards (11.6 AVG) and five touchdowns. Bear in mind he was still playing fewer than 50 percent of the offensive snaps, while games such as the Snow Bowl and a 54-11 blowout of the Chicago Bears naturally made for fewer opportunities to have an impact.

Ertz’s emergence in the second half came as no surprise. He’s an obvious matchup problem at 6’5”, 250 pounds with 4.68 speed—a smooth route-runner as well, particularly for a first-year player.

There’s no limit to what Kelly can do with Ertz in his offense. He can line up as a traditional in-line tight end or in the slot, as has become popular around the league. There were even instances where Ertz was lined up outside the numbers.

The key is getting Ertz on the field, only not necessarily at the expense of Brent Celek. While the seven-year veteran experienced a dramatic dip in overall production, he made his presence felt as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, particularly in the running game.

And although Celek’s 32 receptions and 502 yards were his lowest since taking over as starter, it wasn’t apparent that was due to any decline in his ability. 15.7 yards per reception was a personal best by over two yards, six touchdowns the second-highest total of his career.

With Jackson out of the picture, and no clear-cut No. 3 receiver, there is definitely room for both Celek and Ertz in the offense going forward.

Ertz wound up finishing the ’13 campaign with 36 catches, 469 yards and four touchdowns, which is better than all but a handful of active tight ends can say for their rookie seasons. Those numbers compare favorably and in most cases are better than the likes of Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis when they were pups, to name a few.

Not bad company. Not bad at all.

To be fair, it’s impossible to project exactly what Ertz’s ceiling is or exactly what type of figures he’ll post next season. Just because a player had a better rookie year than some multi-time Pro Bowlers/Hall of Fame types doesn’t guarantee he’ll ascend to that level himself.

That being said, if last season was any indication, Ertz has the potential to make a push for the 1,000-yard mark and/or double-digit touchdowns. All he needs is the opportunity, which it seems obvious he’ll have… and then some.

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

With one season in Philadelphia under Jim Schwartz’s belt, Eagles fans are well aware of the intensity the defensive coordinator brings to the sidelines. But before joining Doug Pederson's staff, Schwartz attracted plenty of attention during a five-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009-2013. A highlight of his tenure in the Motor City developed a new wrinkle this week.

Maybe the most memorable moment during his time in Detroit was the unnecessarily ugly midfield feud in 2011’s Week 6 with then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz marched to midfield for the postgame handshake after his Lions took their first loss of the season. Harbaugh, a usually-excited guy with cause for a little extra enthusiasm after a fourth straight win, came in too strong for Schwartz’s liking. Schwartz chased down Harbaugh as he ran for the tunnel and the two exchanged some choice words. Coaches and players flocked to the tussle. What started as standard postgame procedure became the national talking-point nobody needed for the ensuing week.

The six-year-old incident returned to the conversation this week with Harbaugh, now the head coach at the University of Michigan, admitting on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast (and as transcribed by ESPN) that he was to blame for things getting out of hand. 

"I went in too hard on that, too aggressive on the handshake," Harbaugh said on the podcast. "We've talked, and we're good. We're back to friends. ... There is a protocol in a postgame handshake. I've been there as the winner. I've been there as a loser. You just, 'Nice game,' then go celebrate. Premature celebration there, in the wrong."

On top of discussing his gifting Pope Francis a pair of Jordan sneakers and his theory that bringing a glove to catch a foul ball is acceptable for fans, Harbaugh went on to explain the last time he got in a real fight, as opposed to the silly scrum that went down at Ford Field that fateful day. He was 39, at the end of his days as a player, and got into it with two men at a restaurant.

"I did not win," he said. "I cannot say I won. I didn't get crushed, either. I got some blows in."

Harbaugh has a reputation for his passion, and the handshake debacle with Schwartz was no exception. It’s just that his passion often translates to doing things in a non-traditional way. He’s the khaki’s guy, always sporting his trademark dad-pants on the sidelines — he even tucked an Allen Iverson jersey into them once. He’ll do anything to get a leg up in recruiting, for example, sleeping over at a recruit's house for some “Netflix and Chill.”

Schwartz, similarly, is frequently fired up, and that aggression bleeds into his defensive scheme. 

Harbaugh is in the college game now, so the development in this nearly forgotten exchange isn’t life-changing. But if he ever returns to the pros, it’s good to know a postgame handshake with Schwartz wouldn't revive any bad blood.

Phillies minor league affiliate to ban tacos for one night to demonstrate bacon superiority

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Phillies minor league affiliate to ban tacos for one night to demonstrate bacon superiority

Everybody loves bacon. Everybody loves tacos. So why can't we all just get along and eat bacon tacos?

That's not what will go down on Saturday night when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are BANNING the sale of tacos at all concession stands at Coca-Cola park.

Brutal!

It's all part of the Bacon vs. Taco night as the IronPigs host the Fresno Tacos.

"It was an easy decision. Serving tacos on Saturday would be hypocritical," said Lehigh Valley IronPigs President and General Manager, Kurt Landes.  "Saturday is about proving once and for all that there is absolutely no substitute for bacon. Period."

Yeah, but like I said: BACON TACOS.

The IronPigs are at least trying to make up for their lack of tacos by making bacon bits available to add to any food item for the low price of 75 cents. Seems like a steal. And there's always the candied maple bacon on a stick at least.

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We're going to share some of the official press release for this event because it's just so juicy:

While the feud between Lehigh Valley and Fresno seemingly dates back to the beginning of mankind (or at least the beginning of Minor League Baseball), we should remind you that it was the IronPigs who first received national and international acclaim in 2014 for their "Smell the Change" rebrand that included the introduction of their now iconic bacon strip on-field cap and bacon-themed uniform. The IronPigs have doubled-down on bacon recently, embracing the "Bacon, USA" theme by doubling the amount of bacon sold at all games. The original bacon cap remains one of the top-selling lids in the history of Minor League Baseball. With widespread interest and publicity, the bacon logo quickly sold to each of the 50 states as well as Australia, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It wasn't until a year later in 2015 that the Fresno Grizzlies announced a one-game name change to "Tacos" (we don't get it either) hoping to garner similar attention while claiming the Central Valley of California as the "Taco Capital of the World."

Regardless of your favorite team or food, there's little argument that these two clubs have distinguished themselves promotionally throughout Minor League Baseball and professional sports. In fact, the IronPigs have been awarded the most Golden Bobbleheads in the history of the award, honoring promotional excellence in Minor League Baseball across various categories. Recently, Fresno captured the top prize in 2015 and Lehigh Valley in 2016. The winner of this contest will have a leg up in the race for the 2017 Golden Bobblehead award.