Zach Ertz put up the best individual numbers of his career in 2015—and he’s hoping for even more in 2016.
But No. 86 isn’t thinking about catches, yards and touchdowns. Rather, the Stanford product has one thing at the forefront of his mind: wins, a trip to the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl. Any statistics that come along with it are all for the good of the team.
“At the end of the day, I come out here to play for my teammates, play for my coaches, be the best teammate I can possibly be, have as many catches, yards, and great blocks as I can for this organization,” Zach says. “I’m not coming out here and saying, ‘Man, I really need to break out this year.’ But at the end of the day, I’m not focused on catches and yards, I want to win football games. I’ve had catches and yards in this league and I have zero playoff wins.”
The 2015 campaign was filled with some major obstacles for ZE. Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end underwent surgery and was forced to miss valuable time during training camp. This delayed his opportunity to build chemistry with the offense.
Under normal circumstances, this might not be a major issue, but with a new quarterback at the helm in Sam Bradford, the missed time proved valuable. To make matters worse, in November, Philly’s new quarterback suffered an injury of his own. Nonetheless, when Zach got healthy, he shined with the best season of his career, finishing with 75 catches and 853 yards.
Down the stretch, he became Bradford’s favorite weapon with 35 receptions and 450 yards in the team’s last four games. He joined Jimmy Graham as one of two tight ends since 2013 to have at least 450 yards in four games.
After a strong finish to 2015, he’s ready to take the next step in 2016. With his sights set high, No. 86 has appreciated good health during training camp—for both himself and his quarterback
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to miss an entire offseason rehabbing and not be 100 percent going into training camp and have to learn a new offense in three weeks, live, and then go into the regular season new,” Zach said. “I wasn’t there all preseason camp, so we didn’t have the chemistry that we needed. I thought he battled at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year he was extremely, I think, extremely comfortable and I think his play reflected that…The way he’s competed this summer and taken control of the offense, and finally healthy, is going to be a huge benefit for our football team.”
This year’s Eagles squad will look a bit different than the last. The most obvious change is a new head coach in Doug Pederson. While learning with a new coach can be challenging, if there’s anyone that can help Zach shine, it’s Pederson. Before his tenure with the Eagles, Pederson served as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator where he used a West Coast offense and turned tight end Travis Kelce into a Pro Bowl selection.
With Pederson at the helm, Zach is ready to lead a tight end group, alongside veteran Brent Celek, that will be an integral part of the Philadelphia attack.
“The way that I’ve improved, my run blocking in particular, it presents a lot of opportunities for the offense to kind of have some mismatches in that regard,” Zach says. “Brent and I pride ourselves on being the strength of this football team and I think that’s the way we go out there and approach practice each and every day.”
Last year, Zach ranked No. 6 in the league for receptions by a tight end and No. 7 for yards by a tight end—all while missing time before and during the season. But the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end logged just two touchdowns. However, he’s confident that in Pederson’s offense, opportunities will abound, particularly near the end zone.
“My catches and yards were on par with all the other great tight ends in the league last year. The touchdowns are gonna come based on the scheme,” ZE says. “I think I only had nine red zone targets last year, I think that’s going to improve drastically this year.”