ANAHEIM, Calif. — Reporters expected to hear that Zach Ertz had cleared the NFL's concussion protocol Friday, given the team's previous optimistic assessments this week, and the fact that Ertz was able to practice Thursday on a limited basis. But that was not the case. Eagles coach Doug Pederson announced after practice that the tight end remains in the protocol.
The Eagles listed Ertz as "questionable" heading into Sunday's visit with the 9-3 Los Angeles Rams. Carson Wentz could be without his leading receiver, with 57 catches. This proved not to be a problem against Denver back on Nov. 5, when Ertz sat out with a hamstring injury, but the Rams are not the Broncos.
If Ertz can't play, presumably his duties again will be split between Trey Burton and Brent Celek, with Isaac Seumalo possibly getting more reps than usual as a blocking third tight end.
Ertz, concussed in last Sunday night's game at Seattle, did work out with the team Friday, again on a limited basis, which would indicate that he is close to being cleared.
Last Sunday's loss at Seattle was a step backward for several Eagles, no one more than Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the second-year left tackle filling in for the injured Jason Peters. Vaitai had a hand in two sacks of Carson Wentz, and Pro Football Focus charged him with seven pressures.
Vaitai was not present during the time reporters were allowed in the Eagles' Angel Stadium locker room Thursday or Friday, but his linemates expressed confidence that he will not be a weak link Sunday against the Rams, who also have the ability to pressure the left side, with Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn.
"Some of the toughest games I've ever had, I've learned from," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "That's what he has to do. The thing about him is just the snap count. When he got off the snap count, he was fine. When he didn't, he was in trouble. You gotta beat the defensive end to the point he's trying to get to ahead of you."
Johnson said the biggest issue was the silent count, in a loud road environment, a problem that should be much less pronounced this week. The ball is snapped after the right guard taps the center. The left tackle is the guy with the worst view of that.
"It's hard, especially on the left side. The right guard's tapping. You [also] gotta see what the d-end's doing. It's really hard," Johnson said.
The Rams pose a challenge for Eagles nickel corner Patrick Robinson in rookie slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who has a team-high 51 catches, for 665 yards, and three touchdowns.
"He's definitely one of the bigger slots that I've played, being 6-2. I'm used to smaller slots, like [Dallas's Cole] Beasley and [Washington's Jamison] Crowder," Robinson said. "That's a different matchup for me. For a rookie, he definitely understands zone defenses, and the leverage."