Ertz set for beast of a season

Posted: September 05, 2014

IN THE NFL, they already use words such as "Beast," "Freak" and "Monster" to describe Zach Ertz. Only in his second year, after a season in which his potential was hinted at but nowhere near realized, Ertz's speed, size and beat-your-butt intensity has made him the centerpiece of all discussions about Chip Kelly's offense, Pro edition, 2.0.

But at home, back in Danville, Calif., he's the little guy. OK, slight exaggeration there, but the truth is this: There is a 14-year-old brother, a freshman in high school, who is already bigger than his big brother, already well over 200 pounds, already someone that even the NFL's newest Beast Monster Freak is salivating over.

"He's like 6-6, a receiver, playing at the same high school I went to," Ertz said the other day after practice. "Probably playing all three sports this year. He'll probably narrow it down after this year. But definitely, he's a stud."

So let's see . . . Your team will want to position itself high for that 2022 draft, when the fourth and final Ertz brother - Jackson, then, say, 6-8 - arrives and generates a whole 'nother round of anticipatory adjectives. Maybe he even plays with his brother, by then an 8-year vet, who can show him the pro ropes the way 8-year vet Brent Celek has tutored Ertz in their short time together as Eagles.

Until then, though, we will have to make do with Tiny, and that's just fine. Because with that rookie season under his belt, with DeSean Jackson gone, Ertz is indeed poised to build on those final eight games of last season and embellish the matchup nightmares that he and Celek posed for defensive coordinators late last season.

Ertz finished with 36 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns. Of those catches, 25 gained first downs. Playing in less than half the offensive snaps, even over his more productive second half, there is an understandable expectation those numbers will spike, especially without the presence of long-ball threat Jackson.

It's a lot of conjecture, yes, and would be a lot of pressure if the personality under the microscope did not match the size of the body.

"It is what it is," Ertz said. "The best part about this game this week is that all the talk this offseason goes out the window. All you need to talk about is beating the man in front of you for 60 minutes and that's all I'm looking forward to right now.

"All that preseason talk has been great but last year at the end of camp everybody was saying that I couldn't catch a cold, so . . .

" . . . It goes both ways."

What doesn't go both ways is that belief in himself, and an insatiable desire to improve. Ertz is habitually one of the last players off the field, catching balls off the machine until they shut it down. There are stories from his days at Stanford in which he stood in front of a tennis ball machine and caught up to 1,000 before calling it quits.

There's also this honest admission, not by him but his dad, that Ertz was genuinely miffed at two things from the 2013 draft: one, that the San Francisco 49ers and his former college coach Jim Harbaugh traded away an early second-round pick instead of selecting him; and two, that Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert was the first tight end selected that year, by the Cincinnati Bengals, a few spots ahead of him.

Ertz downplays the first, although he acknowledges, "It would have been cool" to play for his old coach and the team he cheered for as a kid. He does acknowledge still feeling stung about the draft.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "That's motivation every day. I thought I was the best tight end coming out of college. Obviously the Bengals didn't think so . . .

"Everything happens for a reason though. Honestly, I couldn't be happier with the situation I'm in right now. Playing in this offense, playing in Philadelphia - I don't think there's anything better in the NFL. And I love the East Coast . . . Everybody says, 'Oh those East Coast people are so ruthless' and what not. But I love them. I mean they're honest. What more can you ask from people?

"I mean, I'm going to be hard on myself just as they're going to be hard on us. They're hard on us just as they're hard on themselves. I get that relationship."

It's kind of like, well, a family of brothers. You push, you pull. You fight, you friend. You tear down and build each other up, so that eventually nothing on the outside penetrates that belief in yourself.

Zach Ertz is poised to have a beast of a season not just because of what he is, but who.

"I think at this level you have to be that way," said Celek, the 8-year veteran. "If you're not confident in what you can do . . . you're going to fail."

So he reminds you of . . . you?

"A little bit," Celek said with a smile.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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