PHILADELPHIA — Eagles tight end Zach Ertz is making himself heard both on and off the field this season.
With 84 receptions this year entering Monday’s game against Washington, he is closing in on the team’s single-season record of 90 set by former running back Brian Westbrook in 2007.
Ertz, 28, is also on pace to become the fourth tight end in NFL history to catch 100 passes in a season and could challenge the league mark of 110 set by former Dallas tight end Jason Witten in 2012.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has averaged 7.6 receptions per game this season. At that rate, he would finish with 122 for the season, which would rank seventh in NFL history.
“That would be special, but the time to reflect on things like that will be at the end of the season,” Ertz said.
Ertz has also emerged as one of the team’s vocal leaders.
After practices and games, dozens of media members jockey for position to hear his views on quarterback Carson Wentz and coach Doug Pederson, about the charity foundation he formed with his wife — Olympic and World Cup soccer star Julie Johnston — and all sorts of other non-football topics.
Recently, the discussion turned to “Bullet Proof” coffee, a nutritional supplement that includes coffee mixed with butter. Tackle Lane Johnson and backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld are among its avid users.
“Not me,” Ertz said with a laugh Thursday. “When it comes to coffee, I’m a ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ guy. That’s all I drink.”
Ertz wasn’t always so vocal.
While growing up in Danville, California, he was a shy, quiet child. Even in his first season with the Eagles as their second-round draft pick 2013 — Johnson was coach Chip Kelly’s first-round pick — he spent a lot of time in the background.
“When I was 5, I had a speech problem,” Ertz said. “I had a bad stutter. I had to work with a speech therapist when I was young. Even later, I’d get nervous and anxious when I had to talk in front of people. I just wasn’t very comfortable doing it. I’ve been able to get better at it by just taking a deep breath and relaxing (before talking).”
He’s made giant strides in that area.
Last Thursday, Ertz and his wife hosted approximately 350 people at the Ertz Family Foundation’s “City of Love” auction and fundraiser at Lincoln Financial Field. Ertz delivered a speech during the event, which raised money to support various Philadelphia-area charities.
“Talking in front of that many people is a little nerve-wracking,” Ertz said. “But I feel a responsibility to give back, to try and bring some joy and hope to people. If we can change even one person’s life, it will be worth it.”
On the field, he’s emerged as one of the NFL’s most productive offensive players.
Heading into Sunday, he was tied with Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones for the third-most receptions in the league behind Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen (93) and New Orleans wide receiver Michael Thomas (86).
“He’s playing at an extremely high level,” Wentz said Thursday. “I think last year and years before he was, too, but we keep building that chemistry. Zach and I are always sending each other (film) clips saying, ‘This is what I see here,’ and talking through what I expect him to do and vice versa.”
He’s expected to have a big game Monday against the Redskins, who have been the opponents during some of the best games of his career.
His first career NFL reception was an 11-yard pass from quarterback Michael Vick in the 2013 season opener. He has three games with 10 receptions or more against Washington, including a franchise-record 15 catches in a 27-20 loss on Dec. 20, 2014.
Ertz is more focused on helping the Eagles (5-6) stay in contention in the NFC East. They are currently in third place behind Dallas (7-5) and Washington (6-5).
“We’re not exactly where we wanted to be, but that’s no reason to sulk now,” Ertz said. “I’ve had a few good games against the Redskins and hopefully I’ll have another one Monday, but it doesn’t matter to me if I have one catch or 10. Whatever the team needs me to do to help us win, I’ll do.”