Eagles' Zach Ertz Stronger Than Ever After Grueling Workload in 2018

Zach Ertz doesn't merely feel fresh coming off last season's historic workload. The Eagles tight end might be in the best shape of his life.

"This is the strongest I've been in seven years in the NFL," said Ertz in the Eagles' locker room following Tuesday's practice.

Ertz set a league record for tight ends with 116 receptions in 2018 – 126 including playoffs – a feat every bit grueling as it is impressive. This is somebody who makes his living over the middle, when he's not mixing it up with defensive linemen in the trenches, and was the focal point of the Eagles' offense for 18 full games.

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The heavy usage took a toll. Ertz briefly popped up on the injury report in December with an ankle injury, then later wound up withdrawing from the Pro Bowl.

Now, less than five months removed from lining up for 90 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps last season, the 28-year-old sounds unconcerned the wear and tear will carry over into 2019.

"The body feels great," said Ertz, acknowledging coaches have monitored his workload during OTAs. "Every little thing that I had going on at the end of the season is behind me, so I really do feel good."

Ertz "started from the ground up" with his preparation for this coming season, attacking whatever few weaknesses the most voluminous tight end ever might possibly have. It's too soon to say what the final result will be, but the two-time Pro Bowler showed up to the NovaCare Complex bigger than in years past.

Long a matchup problem for defenses, Ertz bulking up may only amplify the issues for Eagles opponents.

"The goal is always to be right around 250 (pounds) at the start of training camp," said Ertz. "Sometimes I'll come in at like 247, 248. Right now I'm right around 251.

"I'm sure during training camp, like every year, you lose a little weight just in terms of banging heads each and every day, but I'm excited with where I'm at right now."

There's one more concern keeping defensive coordinators up at night, and for once it has nothing to do with the tight end. Ertz fully expects the addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson to open up space in the middle of the field, where so many of those 100-plus catches were recorded.

"He's so complimentary to my game," said Ertz. "I'm the guy that's kind of living between the numbers and he's the guy that is taking the top off the defense.

"The safeties, they can't focus on me each and every snap like they typically do. If they do, DeSean's gonna take a 75-yard touchdown pass. If you don't respect DeSean, he's gonna go off for 200 yards on three catches."

Chances are Ertz isn't going to rack up 116 receptions again. He may not even come close to triple digits – he would become the first tight end in NFL history to post two such seasons, let alone back to back. The addition of Jackson, the emergence of second-year tight end Dallas Goedert and having Alshon Jeffery back at full strength should all help take the spotlight off of one player.

A lightened load is probably a good thing for Ertz, who, while up to the task of being of the Eagles' go-to receiver, experienced injuries and limits to his effectiveness in metrics such as yards per reception, averaging a career-worst 10.0 yards per catch last season.

And as Ertz himself observed, catching all those passes wasn't necessarily what was best for the team.

"I've had a year where I had a good year individually and we won a Super Bowl, and we had a year where I had a ton of catches and we didn't win a Super Bowl," Ertz said. "I can tell you right now the year we won the Super Bowl was a lot more fun than having 116 catches.

"I'll take a Super Bowl every year. It doesn't matter how many catches, how many targets I get. I'm just trying to win and I'm trying to win big, and I feel like since we have such a veteran group, that feeling is mutual for a lot of the guys."

A more balanced offense with a viable deep threat in Jackson and other weapons holding up their end of the bargain makes for a more dangerous offense overall. Still, a stronger, fresher, improved version Ertz won't hurt, either.

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