Eagles TE Zach Ertz did his homework and was told that retired offensive line coach Hudson Houck still trained players. So he called Houck, who mentored Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and Bruce Matthews at Southern Cal and coached the great Cowboys lines of the 1990s, out of the blue. Soon after, they spent two weeks together in San Diego working on blocking.
Ertz' time with Houck was just one part of his offseason plan. He spent a month focusing on strength training, another on circuit training and additional time on mixed martial arts training. He also sought out former tight end great Tony Gonzalez, who instructed Ertz on the importance of preparation and tenacity.
The 24-year-old Ertz's goals are high. He said he wants to be mentioned someday alongside Gonzalez and others in the NFL pantheon of tight ends. But he knows he can't get there if he's playing only 50 percent of offensive snaps, as he did last season.
There's ample reason, though, to believe that Ertz will finally become a focal point of Chip Kelly's offense. He caught a franchise-record 15 passes against the Redskins in the penultimate game of last season. And when asked to explain last month how he'll compensate for the loss of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Kelly prominently mentioned Ertz.
"I think he's still growing, and I think Zach will be the first one to tell you that," Kelly said at the NFL meeting. "I think he's working extremely hard in the offseason at continuing to get better."
Ertz was the #13 TE in both standard and PPR formats despite only playing half of the Eagles’ snaps in his second year. Ertz played mostly (73%) on passing downs, so if his playing time is going to increase, a majority of the additional snaps are likely to come in run formations. Still, there’s upside with Ertz if he begins to see starter’s snaps. The Eagles lost their leading receiver -- DeSean Jackson and then Jeremy Maclin -- in back-to-back seasons, so there will be opportunity from a targets standpoint. If Chip Kelly moves Jordan Matthews outside, then Ertz is a candidate to fill Matthews role in the slot, assuming Kelly is willing to play more two-TE sets to get Ertz on the field. Ertz is currently going in the 8th round of early PPR drafts.