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August 28, 2017

Don't be surprised to see Eagles TE Zach Ertz lined up at wide receiver this season

Eagles NFL

When Jordan Matthews was traded to the Bills earlier this month, many thought that would open up the middle of the field for tight end Zach Ertz, who could be the beneficiary of some of Matthews’ targets – and not Nelson Agholor, who had a great start to camp but hasn't shown much throughout the preseason. 

In Thursday night's win over the Dolphins, the big plays came from new wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, who combined for three catches for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

Meanwhile, Ertz quietly caught three passes (on three targets) for 44 yards. And there's reason to believe that the Birds have only scratched the surface of how they plan to use the 6-foot-5 tight end. 

That's because despite his size, Ertz, who led the team in receptions (78) last season despite missing a pair of games, is athletic enough to line up as a wide receiver. The Eagles showed that look early against the Dolphins last week – and it worked perfectly. 

Here’s Ertz's first catch of the night, which not only came on a post route with him lined up as an iso-receiver, but also came against one-on-one coverage from cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Could this be a sign of things to come – Ertz working on the outside in an effort to get mismatches against undersized defensive backs?

“Yeah, absolutely,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on Monday. “Zach has such a big catch radius, is such a good route runner, [and is an] instinctive route runner. There's a certain mismatch when he goes outside based on his size and his route-running skill. So you explore all the options, and that's one of them.”

Also helping Ertz this season will be the fact that he’s entering his second full season playing alongside quarterback Carson Wentz, who helped the Stanford grad rack up a career high in receptions last year. 

That’s the type of consistency that’s can be important to a young player, and something he’s struggled to find in his first four seasons in Philly – his 13 career touchdowns have come from four different quarterbacks, each of whom has started at least 10 games for the Birds since the Eagles drafted Ertz 35th overall in 2013.

EAGLES QUARTERBACKS SINCE DRAFTING ERTZ

QBSTARTS
(YEARS)
ERTZ TDs
Nick Foles18
(2013-14)
6
Carson Wentz16
(2016)
4
Sam Bradford14
(2015)
Mark Sanchez10
(2015-16)
1
Mike Vick6
(2014)
0


As you can see, by the time the home opener rolls around in Week 3, Ertz will surpass his most games played with any quarterback (18).

That makes a difference.

A similar case can be made for Trey Burton, who has been with the Eagles since 2014 but could see the most playing time of his career in 2017 as Brent Celek continues to age – this is not a slight on Celek, just a statement of fact.

So could Burton, just like Ertz, find himself lined up on the outside more often as well this season?

“Same answer,” Reich said. “They're slightly different. I'd say just for fun, you know, it's 80 to 90 percent their traits kind of carry over. They're very similar in 80 percent of the ways. Both very athletic. Both very smart. Both instinctive. Then Trey runs a few routes that we think you kind of emphasize with him. Zach has a couple he's maybe a little bit better at, but they both bring those to the table.”


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