Closing the deal: K-State’s Jesse Ertz will succeed this season

There’s a sales method used when trying to persuade a potential client to purchase an item called the “Ben Franklin Close.” You place all the reasons for buying the product on one side and all the reasons for not buying it on the other side. If head coach Bill Snyder wants to use the Ben Franklin formula for evaluating whether quarterback Jesse Ertz will have a great senior season, the plusses far outweigh the minuses.

Let’s examine them:

Size. Jesse Ertz is listed at 6-3, 212 pounds. Unlike a lot of college football players, those stats seem pretty realistic. He is tall enough to see over Big 12 defenses. He is taller than former starters Chad May, Matt Miller, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson, all of whom had outstanding careers at K-State. Height is not a prerequisite to success in college football, but it certainly helps.

The weight is helpful too. K-State uses a quarterback-run game that relies on a strong man behind center. Think about the success of Collin Klein, who led K-State to its last Big 12 Championship and finished third in the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting. He’s Ertz’ quarterback coach now, and Ertz has the durability and strength to do the same type of things.

Ertz, despite badly injuring his shoulder in the team’s sixth game, led the Cats in rushing yards (1,012) and carries (183) at 5.5 yards per carry. He tied fullback Winston Dimel with 12 rushing touchdowns. With the receiving talent at his disposal this year, he might not have to carry the ball as much. But that can only enhance his effectiveness when offensive coordinator Dana Dimel calls a QB run.

Arm strength. Last season, Jesse Ertz completed 152 of 264 passes (57.6 percent) for 1,766 yards. He had nine touchdowns and four interceptions. That was with a throwing shoulder that made it almost impossible for him to practice during the week. He still started every game. After offseason surgery, he has come back much stronger.

“From a physical standpoint, I thought he came back (in the spring) and threw well,” said Snyder, who is not exactly prone to hyperbole. “Since that time, he’s gotten stronger and stronger and stronger. I think he readily admits right now that he’s throwing the ball better than he ever has.”

His teammates have noticed too.

“You have to understand that man had some serious problems with his shoulder,” offensive tackle Dalton Risner said at Big 12 Media Day. “He got it fixed and he’s healthy now. He is throwing the best he has. I think there’s some unreached potential and Jesse is going to bust out.’’

Said fullback Winston Dimel, “That dude works harder than anybody I know and gives everything to this game. He is watching film all the time. Just everything that a champion does, he does. To have him as my quarterback, I could not ask for anything else.”

Tools around him. Kansas State returns a lot of talent at the skill positions in 2017. Only Charles Jones and back-up quarterback Joe Hubener are gone from among last year’s top 10 rushers. Only Jones and Deante Burton are gone from the top eight receivers. Some of those receivers were underutilized last year because Ertz didn’t have the arm strength to get them the ball downfield or in tight situations.

That is likely to change.

“When we play 7-on-7 and I am guarding Isaiah Zuber or Byron Pringle, there are some plays where Jesse puts it on the money and you can’t defend it,” defensive back D.J. Reed said. “He is throwing great balls.”

Quiet confidence. Jesse Ertz doesn’t strike you as a Division I college quarterback away from the field. He is not physically impressive, like Josh Freeman, or arrogant, like Chad May and Michael Bishop. He is self-deprecating. But he’s confident he can get the job done.

One offensive coordinator. Long-time Snyder assistant Del Miller retired after last season. Dana Dimel will be calling all the plays this season. The dual coordinators were a large part of the reason K-State constantly threatened to use up the play clock, though K-State will still probably want to out-possess their opponents rather than getting into a shootout.

But with one coordinator guiding him, Ertz won’t have to wonder whose play will be used. Dimel is bullish what the offense can do this season.

“We do not want to make predictions,” he said. “We are just excited to have a lot of guys back that are good players that are more experienced in the system that have worked very hard. All these guys do their stuff the right way off the field, so they are fun guys to work with. I love working with these guys, and, obviously, there is some talent there as well.”

That’s coach-speak for, “Look out, opposing defenses.”

Experience. This may be the most important factor. Snyder’s offense is complicated, and it takes a while to master, but when you do, look out.

The last six times Snyder returned his leading passer from the previous season, the Wildcats won at least nine games, piling up 11 victories in 1998 with Bishop, in 2000 with Jonathan Beasley, in 2002 and 2003 with Ell Roberson, and in 2012 with Klein. In 2014, they won nine games with Jake Waters.

“Our offense has a lot to it,” Ertz said. “We have quarterback run game, run game, pistol, shotgun, option. There are just so many things to learn. To be good at all those things and to operate quickly and efficiently, experience is huge. To come back and know what you are seeing and facing in game situations, you can’t put a value on that.”

There are a few minuses, most of which Jesse Ertz said are not valid.

Speed. Jesse Ertz does not have break-away speed, but he’s faster than most people think. Ertz almost dares defenders to try to catch him.

“I have kind of gotten over (the criticism about his lack of speed), but there was a time coming out of high school when it (bothered me),” he said. “I averaged more than 11 yards per carry in high school and I was a sprinter on the track team. When I got here everyone thinks you can’t run because you are tall or you aren’t ripped. You don’t look like you just came out of a Nike factory.

“I have the school record for quarterbacks in the 300-yard shuttle test (a drill in which you run 60 yards in five different directions, rest for a minute and repeat). It’s a conditioning test and it’s hard. It’s about three minutes long. I’m not going to outrun (Heisman-winner) Lamar Jackson, but I don’t feel like I run badly, by any means.”

Labels. Jesse Ertz was a three-start recruit out of Iowa, even though he was all-everything. But he wasn’t recruited by Ohio State or Alabama, so he was considered a project. His name sounds like you shouldsay “excuse me” after saying it. There’s just not much that jumps off the paper at you.

But the turf at Bill Snyder Family Stadium is not made of paper, and neither are any of the other fields in the Big 12 Conference. What matters is how he performs.

The season looks like it could be magical for Ertz and the Wildcats. If Ertz stays healthy, and Snyder and his staff do their usual magic, a conference championship is not out of the question. Nine wins seems like a very minimum number for the 2017 Wildcats.

So, Mr. Franklin, are you buying Jesse Ertz? He looks at his paper through his spectacles, and says it is a resounding “Yes!”

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Article by David Smale

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