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Eagles' Zach Ertz: I strive to emulate, surpass Jason Witten

NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.

Zach Ertz

Tight end, Philadelphia Eagles

Born: Nov. 10, 1990

Experience: Five NFL seasons

Interview by Nick Shook | July 16, 2018

Ertz is spending the week promoting Capital One and the ESPYs as a representative of Stanford University, which became the first athletic program in history to win both the men's and women's Capital One Cup as the most successful program in the country across all sports. Thanks to the Cardinal's sweep, the university is receiving $400,000 in donation funds from Capital One. Ertz is representing his alma mater at the ESPYs. He will also be in attendance for the Eagles' nomination for Best Team and the nomination of his wife, soccer star Julie Ertz, for Best Female Athlete. In this interview, Ertz also discusses former Stanford teammate Andrew Luck, what it takes to be a premier tight end and the Eagles' exceptional offensive line.

I want to play in Philadelphia as long as I can. I love the game of football. I love the ability to compete for this city, to win a Super Bowl in this city. My wife and I understand that injuries are part of the game. I've had two concussions in my career. I'm not afraid [of] that by any means, but at the same time, I feel like I'm in the prime of my career. I feel like my cognitive state has never been higher. I'm just taking it year by year and hope to play as long as I can. Whatever God decides, whatever he calls me to play, whether it's one more year or 10 more years, I'll be content with that.

When I was 16 years old, watching football for the first time, the Cowboys were always on TV -- unfortunately, looking back at it now -- but Jason Witten was the guy who carried himself, in my opinion as a 16-year-old kid, the right way. He was a phenomenal tight end. [On] third down, they were always going to Witten running Y-option in the middle of the field. Tony [Romo] was always throwing it to him and extending drives, and I was like, "That's the guy that I want to emulate my game after." He was a leader of men on those teams for so long. All those characteristics I really thought were phenomenal. I've been striving to emulate that, striving to surpass it. Whether I will ever (do that) is still up in the air.

Those are the goals, to have [Jason Witten] type of stats, type of success. I'm just going out there trying to be the best tight end I can for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a bummer that those guys' careers have come to an end. I wish I played more against them.

I loved playing against Witt. Most of the time when I play a team I'm just over there on the sideline, on the bench just looking at pictures from the previous drive. But when we played the Cowboys and he was out there going against our defense, I would make a point to watch a couple drives here and there just to see what he was doing. It's unfortunate that he's retired.

We've got another great tight end in Jordan Reed, who I really think is a phenomenal talent in the NFC East with the Redskins. He's another guy that I'll kind of do the same thing with. He's a great person, too.

I think the ultimate compliment that someone can give you is that you're a technician. It has no reflection of your athletic ability. It has no reflection of the talent that you've been given. When I think of the word technician, I think of the work that you've put in to really refine your craft, refine your technique. So when people watch my game, I hope that's what they see because I have put a lot of work and effort and time into my craft, my route running, my blocking.

The blocking stuff [has] not come naturally to me in the past, but it's something that I've constantly worked at. I've got a phenomenal tight end coach in Justin Peelle, who has held me accountable to the blocking side of the game.

Just trying not to have a weakness in any part of my game. That's always been the approach in all aspects of my game. When the team needs me to run block, needs me to pass block, whether it comes naturally or not. ... You can't be viewed as a liability or a tendency, a cue for run or pass, one way or the other, no matter what your skill set is. You've got to be able to do both as a tight end. The most dynamic offenses in the league seem to have a great tight end who can do both, whether it'd be the Patriots or the Panthers or the Chiefs. And I hope people say that about the Eagles.

You can't be a weak link in this league as a tight end, whether it'd be in one aspect or the other.

Andrew Luck, when he's healthy, is up there. The guy is unbelievably talented. I saw him in college, I was with him for three years. If he's healthy and they're able to keep him upright, the guy should be mentioned up there with the rest of [the top quarterbacks right now].

The strength of the offensive line is really going to determine the success of an offense, and lucky for us and a credit to [general manager] Howie [Roseman] and [coach] Doug [Pederson] and [offensive line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland for putting those guys in place and having depth behind them, too. So when you lose a guy like Jason Peters, you don't crumble. You have a guy like Halapoulivaati Vaitai that comes in and has a great postseason.

I think our offensive line kind of epitomizes the evolution of the game. Our two offensive tackles are just freak-show athletes. Lane Johnson is one of the biggest anomalies at the position as you can get. He's 320 pounds and ran a 4.7 at the combine. He's just long strides, very strong.

Then on the other side, you have a guy who's probably even more of a freak in Jason Peters. Probably a Hall of Fame left tackle, [a] guy that played tight end in college. [He] and Lane both played tight end in college. They're phenomenal athletes.

[My wife Julie and I] have a unique relationship in the sense that both of us understand the highs and lows of being an athlete. We understand the pulls that you kind of have to endure, both literally and figuratively. The demands of the sport are obviously high in both cases. We're at the highest levels of our respective sports, so we're able to relate and kind of keep each other in different perspectives and bouncing off ideas and venting when we need to vent and always being there to support one another as people first and foremost and athletes second.

Married life is the best. It's phenomenal. I would recommend it for everyone. We do a lot of long distance, which is tough at times, but at the same time we know that this season of our life, with the sports that we play, is going to be a season that will eventually come to an end. So we're trying to support each other the best we can and just encourage each other as we feel called to play. God willing, we play for a long time. But at the same time, we know that the season will come to an end, we'll be able to settle down and be with each other every day.

I say it all the time: Our marriage wasn't built on our athletic success. We met in college. I didn't even know she played soccer; she didn't know I played football. Our relationship was formed on a love for one another and the support we have for one another. It's not based on athletic success; I just care about her as a person, and she does the same for me.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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