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.

Drexel falls to James Madison in potential CAA Tournament preview

Drexel falls to James Madison in potential CAA Tournament preview

BOX SCORE

Jackson Kent and Tom Vodanovich combined to score 31 points and James Madison held off Drexel late to secure a 70-64 victory Thursday night.

The game could be a preview of a first-round match-up in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. With one game left in the regular season, James Madison (9-21, 7-10) is the No. 7 seed and Drexel (9-21, 3-14) has locked up the No. 10 seed. Those seeds meet in the first round, with the winner facing the No. 2 seed in the second round.

Sammy Mojica hit a 3-pointer with :32 left to get the Dragons within four, 66-62, but Shakir Brown and Joey McLean each hit a pair of free throws to seal the victory.

Kent hit 6 of 11 from the floor and tallied 16 points with eight rebounds to lead the Dukes. Vodanovich added 15 points.

Kurk Lee and Mojica both scored 18 points off the Dragons' bench.

Conspiracy charge added for 3 former Penn State administrators

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Conspiracy charge added for 3 former Penn State administrators

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday allowed prosecutors to add a conspiracy charge against three former Penn State administrators, increasing their possible penalty if convicted of crimes for their handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

Judge John Boccabella granted a request by the attorney general's office to tack on a related conspiracy count to the charges of endangering the welfare of children.

Prosecutors said each felony count carries up to 7 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Jury selection is scheduled for March 20 in Harrisburg in the case of former university president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.

The defendants sought permission last week from Boccabella for an appeal that could delay the trial. The judge has not ruled on that request.

They argue Boccabella erred when he declined to dismiss the child-welfare charges, arguing the statute of limitations expired, the defendants did not provide direct care for children and they are charged with actions that occurred before the law was revised.

Earlier this month, the judge dismissed charges of failing to properly report suspected abuse, and last year the Superior Court threw out perjury, obstruction and conspiracy charges.

The three administrators fielded a complaint in 2001 from a graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky, then retired as an assistant football coach, sexually abusing a boy in a team shower.

They did not report the matter to police or child welfare authorities, but did tell Sandusky he could no longer bring children to the campus and they notified his charity for children, The Second Mile.

Sandusky currently is serving a lengthy state prison term after being convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.

Last week, a new judge appointed to preside over his appeals under the state's Post-Conviction Relief Act scheduled a March 24 hearing at the courthouse near State College to "present and finalize the evidentiary portion" of the hearing.