In the first three games of the regular season last year, Zach Ertz averaged just 18 snaps per game. Over the last 13 games, he averaged 31 snaps, and became a dangerous weapon in the Eagles' offense, catching five TD passes in his last nine games, including the playoffs.
Speaking on the Eagles' "exit day" after their loss to the Saints in the playoffs, Ertz revealed that his lack of playing time early in the season was attributable to some drops that he had in the preseason.
Ertz explained at the time, "To end the preseason camp, I didn't have the best last two preseason games, and I think that's one of the things that kind of steered them toward the 3-WR sets, especially at the beginning. As the season progressed, I think I built more trust in myself and hopefully that continues next year."
Here were Ertz's three drops in those final two preseason games:
But Ertz rebounded. According to ProFootballFocus, he had just two drops in the 2013 regular season.
Jordan Matthews had similar struggles in his first preseason game last week in Chicago, when he dropped several passes after weeks of glowing praise in the Philly media's practice reports. While Chip Kelly downplayed Matthews' similarities to Ertz's struggles last year, he attributed Matthews' drops to being too fired up in his first NFL action.
"He was a little over-excited playing in his first NFL football game against Chicago," said Kelly, "and the Jordan that we've seen in practices is the Jordan that you kind of saw today. I think he had nine targets, nine catches. He did a good job with the run after the catch. It's the same thing that we've seen when we've been at our training sessions at the NovaCare is what we finally saw tonight. He's just such an emotional guy and plays at such a high level that I think he was probably just ramped up a little bit too (much) in the Chicago game, so I'm glad with what we saw tonight."
Ertz explained that he, like Matthews, was trying to do too much in the preseason games his rookie season. "It's just pressing. You want to do so well every time you're in there. When you're in an unfamiliar situation like you are in your first preseason game, you kind of press and you want to be perfect. When you put the pressure on yourself there's no way you can be successful."
Matthews confirmed that sentiment. "That's how it's going to be my rookie year," he said. "(My game speed) is going to pick up. It was the same way my first practice. The first practice everything seemed real fast, but it started to slow down for me. First preseason game, seemed kind of fast, it slowed down. It's going to be the same way in the regular season, and then as we go on.
"Going into this game, I said I'm going to do my job and make the plays that need to be made. Don't try to be a world beater, just do what you gotta do."
Hyperactive Jordan Matthews disappointed an Eagles fan base who had high expectations for him in his first preseason game. A more relaxed Jordan Matthews caught nine passes for 104 yards on nine targets, and looked a lot like what he has been showing in training camp every day.
"I think we have a very similar mindset," said Ertz. "We're both very hard on ourselves. He was very upset at his play last week but I knew he would come back and make some plays this week, and I think it was good for him to come out here and makes some plays and just build that confidence in himself. The sky is the limit for that kid. He's going to be a special player."