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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Friday, November 1, 2013

An Eagles notebook

The Eagles Scoop/Jack McCaffery


PHILADELPHIA --- The first time Eagles rookie tight end Zach Ertz was ordered to play football somewhere near Oakland, it wasn't his choice.

Second time? Same thing.

The first was when he was recruited to play college football, and, he said, his mother, Lisa, made the decision: He would stay relatively close to his home in Danville, California.

“I was feeling UCLA,” he said. “She was feeling Stanford. So it was Stanford. And it was the best decision she ever made.”

Ertz went to Stanford and played well enough to become the Eagles' 2013 second-round draft choice, the 35th player selected overall in the draft. Sunday, because his employer has it on the schedule, he will return to that region of California and try to help the Eagles defeat the Raiders.

“It's only about 20 minutes from where I grew up,” Ertz said Thursday, after practice at the NovaCare Complex. “But I never went to an NFL game growing up. The first NFL game I ever saw was when we played in the preseason here, and then our opening game in Washington. I always thought I was going to play basketball. I was a big Lakers fan --- a big Kobe Bryant fan.”

Ertz said “about 20” of his friends and family, and potentially many more, will be in Oakland Sunday, cheering for him and the Eagles.

“It won't affect me,” he said. “I will still prepare for the game the same way I always have. Obviously, going home, I would like to make some big plays out there. It would be a lot of fun, for me especially.”

Ertz has played in all eight Eagles games, and has had at least one pass reception in each. But in the 17-3 loss to the Giants last week, he had just one catch for five yards.

“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “I've had some opportunities to make some plays. I think I've made the plays when I've had my number called. Hopefully, that number continues to go up for the last eight games of this season, whether it is blocking or in the passing game, wherever they need me.”

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After surrendering 52 points in Denver Sept. 29, the Eagles have not allowed more than 21 points in a game. In their last two games, they have held opponents to 17 points of fewer.

Simple explanation: Better tackling.

“We work it every day in practice,” Nate Allen said. “Even in our team periods and seven-on-seven, we work on balance, and setting up like we are going to make a tackle. That definitely pays off on Sunday.”

That issue percolated during training camp when Chip Kelly chose not to order tackling practice --- or at least to keep it to what was thought to be an historic minimum.

“There's only 14 padded practices total during the entire season,” Kelly said Thursday, citing the players' bargaining agreement. “But I think we can do a good job fundamentally. You're not taking people to the ground, but I still think you can practice your approach --- long strike, short strike, stagger strike, all that stuff, without taking guys to the ground. I think it's what you emphasize every day in practice.

“One of the things we want to pride ourselves on is being a good fundamental football team. And the only way you can be a good fundamental football team is to practice the fundamentals.”

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The Eagles' revived tackling will be put to a test Sunday in Oakland, where quarterback Terrelle Pryor has rushed for 391 yards in six games, a 7.4-yard average.

“He's a heck of an athlete,” Allen said. “It speaks for itself. He can make guys miss. He's got a nice stiff-arm when he gets out of the pocket and starts running. Yeah, he's a big guy. We've just got to wrap and get as many people to the ball as we can. And the main thing I keep saying is, 'Everybody stay disciplined and do your job in the secondary,' because when he gets out there, he is looking to go deep. So we have to stay in coverage.”

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks understands the challenge.

“We are going to do our best,” he said. “We have some stuff for him. We're going to do our thing.”

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NOTES: The Eagles have a roster spot open, but Chip Kelly said he is not likely to fill it until the weekend … Jake Knott (hamstring) did not practice Thursday. DeSean Jackson (ankle), Michael Vick (hamstring), Donnie Jones (left foot) and Casey Matthews (hip) were limited in practice. Patrick Chung (shoulder), Jon Dorenbos (groin), Nick Foles (concussion), Damaris Johnson (ankle), Jason Peters (shoulder, finger), Chris Polk (shoulder) and Cedric Thornton (knee) all practiced fully … Unconcerned with jet lag, Kelly will take the Birds to Oakland Saturday, not earlier, as is an occasional NFL practice. “It takes a week to get acclimated,” he said. “So unless we went out a week ago, it wouldn't matter.”


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