Eagles rookie Ertz itching to get his chance
When Zach Ertz called former Stanford teammate Richard Sherman to congratulate him on the Seattle Seahawks' victory over the 49ers, the conversation shifted to the Eagles rookie tight end and his adjustment to playing less in the NFL.
"When he first got in the league, he was a fifth-round draft pick and he just had to wait his turn," Ertz said of the supremely confident Sherman. "He had the talent all along, obviously, and he's the best corner in the league.
"That was kind of his big message to me, that you have to wait and do your time sometimes and eventually your time will come. When it comes, you have to make the most of it."
Through three games, Ertz has played 51 of 205 possible snaps backing up starter Brent Celek. The season is young, but his 25 percent playing time is lower than some expected for the Eagles' second tight end and, in Ertz's case, a high second-round draft pick.
The Eagles need a viable third option on offense after running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and of the available talent Ertz would seem to have the greatest upside. But he's still learning and, according to coach Chip Kelly, Celek and wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jason Avant have played well enough to maintain their starting roles.
Still, Ertz's receiving numbers - he has caught four passes for 74 yards - are comparable to Celek's (4-74) and Cooper's (6-68). Celek, who has played 88 percent of snaps, and Cooper (97 per cent) each have a touchdown, too.
Ertz said that he agreed with Kelly about the veterans' playing ahead of him. Celek and Cooper, he pointed out, were better blockers right now. But Ertz, who was selected 35th overall in April's draft, admitted to being impatient.
"That's the hardest part," he said this week. "I've been ingrained since a young age to compete always and strive to be the best and I think I'm working toward that. You do have to be patient. Control what you can control. That was preached to us at Stanford."
During his first two seasons as a Cardinal, Ertz had all-American Coby Fleener ahead of him and split time with Levine Toilolo. But after Fleener left for the Colts, Stanford flourished in two-tight end sets with Ertz more the pass catcher and Toilolo more the blocker.
The Eagles have used two- or three-tight-end personnel only 14.6 percent of plays thus far.
"It's no different than when he went to college," Eagles tight- ends coach Ted Williams said. "When he left high school, he thought things would turn out a certain way and there would be a certain protocol, so to speak."
Williams said Ertz has made strides as a blocker. "It's important to him," the coach said. The rookie has also seemingly made his dropped-passes problem go away by latching onto Avant and catching 50 balls a day after practice, something he said he'll do for the rest of his career.
Ertz's strengths lie in his ability to create mismatches. He's an "exceptional route runner," Williams said.
"He makes you guard the field, as opposed to, 'He's just a tight end. I'll just hang with him,' " Williams said. "He runs routes like a wide receiver."
Ertz often lined up outside like a receiver at Stanford and had his share of practice battles with Sherman, who was two years ahead. Ertz said they remain close, but he's behind in the self-assurance department.
"Richard Sherman has kind of the peak of self-confidence," Ertz said. "I'm a little below that. But I've learned a lot from him."
Cole in the trenches
Trent Cole spent much of the offseason saying that the move to outside linebacker would free him up from double teams. But the former 4-3 defensive end has spent more time this season as a down lineman playing a 3-4 end spot that often asks him to fill two gaps.
"Two-gapping is tough," Cole said. "It is what it is. That's all I'm going to say."
With the Eagles going with their nickel defense most of the time the last two games, Cole has seen his share of double teams as a four-technique end (opposite the inside shoulder of the tackle).
"I'm in the trenches," Cole said.
For months, Cole answered questions about adapting to outside linebacker and having to drop into coverage. But he hasn't been required to cover much.
Overall, Cole has dropped on 17 of 195 snaps played (8.7 percent), per Pro Football Focus. But against the Chargers and Chiefs, he dropped 7 out of 135 snaps (5.2 percent). Connor Barwin, by comparison, has dropped 58 of 231 snaps (25.1 percent.) at the other starting outside-linebacker spot.
Inside the game
Chip Kelly said that his tight ends chip-block, but Celek and guard Todd Herremans said that the skill - which requires a tight end or running back "chipping" a pass rusher en route - hasn't been used as often as it was under the previous regime. The question posed to Kelly was whether it needed to be done more to assist tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters.
"Yeah, we do that," Kelly said. "Watch the film, study it."
One thing is certain: Eagles tight ends have blocked more. They have stayed in to block 58.2 percent of the time as opposed to last season's 52.8 percent.
Jason Kelce's first fumbled snap against the Chiefs was a mental mistake, he conceded. But the second, when he fired a shotgun snap through Michael Vick's hands, happened because of his penchant for overcooking the first snap on his possessions, the center said. "My hands are faster, my feet are faster, I'm a fast center," Kelce said, "so the ball comes back a little faster. So what's the remedy? "Put less wrist on it," Kelce said.
Peyton Manning's hard count has gotten defensive linemen to jump offsides for years. He got the Raiders a few times on Monday night.
Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton said he watched the game and envisioned himself lining up opposite the Broncos quarterback as he called out his presnap signals "and when he did it sometimes I even jumped in my head." So what's the best way to avoid jumping offsides against Manning? "Watch the ball," Thornton said.
Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks was informed that Manning was one of the best ever against the blitz. "Is he? I've never played against him," Kendricks said. "I can't wait. I went against Tom Brady [in the preseason]. Got screwed on that."
Manning has seen practically every presnap disguise, so it is unlikely Eagles blitzers will do much moving around before the snap. "We're just going to line up and play ball," Kendricks said. "We do, pretty much, have free rein, but sometimes when people put in those things, you can give up a lot of [stuff]."
Alex Henery has already missed two field goals - from 46 and 48 yards the last two games - and is 5 of 7 overall. The Eagles kicker has gone through similar stretches. In 2011 as a rookie, Henery missed 3 of his first 11 tries, including two against the 49ers. He ended last season on a sour note, connecting on only 5 of 8. But after his rocky start two years ago and poor finish a year later, Henery had impressive streaks - 16 in a row to end 2011 and 22 straight in 2012. "Today I hit them great," Henery said after Tuesday's practice. "If I keep doing that every time and keep those bad ones out of there, I'll get on my streak like I have the last two years."
Inside the locker room
Former Eagle Brian Dawkins took beleaguered safety Nate Allen aside before the Chiefs game. What did he say? "Trust your eyes," Allen recounted. "Just trust what you see and go play ball." . . . With tackle Dennis Kelly cleared to play after August back surgery, the Eagles may soon have to face a decision on whether to activate him or Allen Barbre. Right now, Barbre is the first tackle and guard off the bench. Kelly practiced exclusively at tackle during training camp, but did play guard last season. "We'll just have to see," Kelly said. "I've missed a month of football." . . . Herremans, who has had his struggles this season, especially in pass protection, was as despondent after last Thursday's loss to the Chiefs as he has seemingly ever been. "I knew that we didn't play well up front," he said. "And then to give up that holding call late in the game when we're trying to make a run and score didn't help either. I was bummed." . . . Rookie defensive end Joe Kruger, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, said that he's already gained 10 pounds since the draft and is up to 280. He said the Eagles think he can gain 10 more pounds.
By the numbers
Eagles offense personnel groupings by down:
First down: "10" (1 running back, 0 tight ends, 4 wide receivers), 2 snaps; "11" (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), 78 snaps; "12" (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), 12 snaps; "13" (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR), 2 snaps; "22" (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR), 1 snap.
Second down: 11, 54 snaps; 12, 10 snaps; 13, 1 snap.
Third down: 11, 32 snaps; 12, 3 snaps; 13, 1 snap.
Fourth down: 11, 1 snap; 12, 1 snap.
LeSean McCoy is averaging a robust 10.2 yards a carry when he runs up the middle. Here are his numbers by direction: Left, 23 carries for 144 yards (6.3 avg.); Right 26-118 (4.5 avg.); Middle, 13-133-2 TDs.
Mychal Kendricks has eight missed tackles in 242 snaps played (3.3 percent) through three games. Last season, the Eagles linebacker led the team with 14 missed tackles in 955 snaps played (1.5 percent).