The Philadelphia Eagles opened their 2018 Training Camp at NovaCare Complex last Wednesday and Thursday, and it’s been so far so good for Zach Ertz and the defending Super Bowl Champions, as they get set to defend their crown.
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) July 25, 2018
Eagles camp has been a popular first stop for national football reporters as they make the rounds across the league, and Zach recently told NBC’s Peter King about how his life in particular changed after catching the game-winning TD in the Super Bowl
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) July 30, 2018
But while much has changed for Philly since last season, most notably their trophy case and the status of their ring fingers, the focus remains the same as the Eagles get back on the field, hungry to dominate the league once again and not showing an ounce of complacency after rising to the top of the sport last season.
Day 1 of Champ Camp wasn’t all business, as the Eagles’ social media team had players fill out cards, much like those kids will soon be filling out for the first day of school.
On his, Zach professed his love for his wife as well as his desire to be more like teammate Jordan Hicks.
Getting down to business, all eyes in Philly have been on the players returning from injury, like Hicks, who has matched up against Zach in practice, as well as star quarterback Carson Wentz who continues to progress well from the knee injury that ended his 2017 season early.
But Zach cautions not to forget about running back Darren Sproles, who had been one of the most highly productive Eagles over the last few years before he saw his season ended abruptly due to a knee injury in Week 3 last season. And as the Champs get set to defend their title against all comers, they’re looking forward to having the veteran running back in the fold. In fact, Zach says the 35-year-old Sproles looks so good in camp, it seems like he’s aging in reverse.
Want to know how impressive Darren Sproles has looked coming off his ACL injury from last year? Players told me hasn’t lost a step and is just as quick as he’s always been. Zach Ertz told me of Sproles who is now 35, “He’s Benjamin Button."
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) July 31, 2018
Hicks is also said to be looking good, as is Wentz, who is expected to be ready for Week 1.
However, as Wentz eases into practice, Zach has gotten most of his work so far this camp in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles.
It’s been a great challenge for Zach early on, going against his team’s most elite defenders, most notably safety Malcolm Jenkins.
On day three of practice on Friday, Bleeding Green Nation’s Benjamin Solak had a great breakdown of a particularly competitive series of plays between No. 86 and his Pro Bowl counterpart Jenkins.
“Camp is fun for veterans. I’m sure the older you get, the more jaded you feel, but there’s a sweet spot in which you’ve got a strong game, you know most of what’s going on, and you have a good rapport with your teammates. Jenkins and Ertz are right in that flow.
So when Jenkins skied over Ertz on a slight overthrow from Nick Foles and half-intercepted, half-dunked on Zach, he wasn’t slow to let Ertz know about it. The defense hooted and hollered as Ertz jogged back to the huddle—he was just biding his time.
Out of the slot, manned up on Jenkins, Ertz ran a short post with a bit of a double move at the break point. He initially tried to bend Jenkins inside, then outside, then break back across his face—but the first head fake didn’t make Jenkins bite, so when Ertz came back across there was…a bit of contact.
Ertz eventually freed up into space and made a nice diving catch; Jenkins immediately called for the flag, which didn’t come. After the play, I asked Jenkins if it really was OPI: “I mean, depends on who you ask. He’s savvy enough to push off and not get called for it.”
Philadelphia’s tight ends were also the recent focus of NJ.com’s Sights and Sounds feature, where Zack Rosenblatt took notice of No. 86’s athleticism during the first few days of Eagles camp.
Ertz certainly gets frequently lauded for his abilities as a pass catcher and tight end, but I’m not sure people truly realize how great of an athlete Ertz is. Considering his size (6-5, 250) and position, I’m not sure there are many players who move as well as he does.
It’s Zach’s combination of savvy, skill and pure athletic ability that made him a Pro Bowler for the first time last year. He’s also stepped into a new role this summer, as the veteran leader of the Eagles tight end corps, with his mentor Brent Celek no longer with the team. Zach will be charged with passing that savvy on to the next generation, particularly rookie Dallas Goedert.
“It’s pretty cool anytime you’re with a Pro Bowl type caliber player,” Goedert said. “We’ve got a lot of them in this offense. Anytime you’re on the field, you’re on the field with a high caliber player.”
With the sheer volume of high-caliber players they have, all clicking at a high level, it’s easy to see why the Super Bowl Champions are supremely confident heading into their title defense season.