D.J. Reed has something to tell Kansas State football fans about Jesse Ertz.
“He looks great,” Reed, a junior defensive back, said Tuesday at Big 12 media days. “He’s throwing the ball better than I have ever seen.”
Ertz and his throwing shoulder have been a bit of a mystery since we last saw K-State’s senior quarterback in action. After ending the season with a bang (195 passing yards, 67 rushing yards, three touchdowns) in a 33-28 victory over Texas A&M at the Texas Bowl, Ertz has operated outside the public eye.
He underwent shoulder surgery in the winter to repair an injury he suffered midway through the season and then missed spring practice while recovering from the procedure. Though he remained K-State’s unquestioned starter during his time away, it remained unclear how long it would take him to get back to full strength or how he would play once he did.
So far, Ertz has given his teammates no cause for concern.
“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,” Reed said. “You can’t say anything about it. He is throwing great balls.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder says that’s no exaggeration.
“From a physical standpoint, I saw him throw in the spring, and I thought he came back and threw well,” Snyder said. “Since that time, he’s gotten stronger and stronger and stronger, and I think he readily admits right now that he’s throwing the ball better than he ever has.”
It was obvious Ertz was playing hurt as his junior season went on. His throws lost velocity and distance after he suffered an awkward tackle on his right shoulder against Oklahoma and K-State adjusted its offense, accordingly, asking him to stop looking downfield in favor of short, quick throws.
Still, he found a way to make plays at less than 100 percent and K-State finished 9-4.
K-State quarterbacks historically do big things when they return with a year of starting experience. Many of Snyder’s best teams were led by experienced passers, such as Jake Waters, Collin Klein, Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson.
Many have expected Ertz to follow that path, so long as his shoulder can stay healthy for a full season.
“Having my shoulder intact has been pretty helpful,” Ertz said. “I don’t think there is another 20 yards on my arm that I can throw now, but I obviously feel a lot better than I did Week 7 last year.”
But it was a slow process to this point.
Ertz wore a sling on his right arm for several weeks after his surgery. Then he watched spring practices in street clothes, doing little more than taking mental reps while backup Alex Delton handled quarterback duties. He didn’t even start throwing on his own until April.
“I started out throwing the football 10 yards,” Ertz said. “I would throw 20 balls at that distance and then move back to 20 until I built up enough arm strength to go to 30.”
It’s scary to think what a healthy Ertz is capable of if he picks up where he left off last season. Throwing deep was his biggest weakness early, but it became a strength. He found Pringle for an 83-yard touchdown against TCU and a 79-yard score against Texas A&M.
Not only is he now healthy, he knows the ins and outs of K-State’s offense.
“In our offense, game experience is huge,” Ertz said. “We run a difficult system. It’s complex. Some teams are pro style or they run the ball or they throw the ball. We have QB run game, the pistol, the shotgun, the option. There are just so many things to learn. To be good at all those things and to operate quickly and efficiently takes time.
“It’s huge to come back and know what you are seeing and facing. You can’t put a value on that.”
You can’t put a value on a healthy arm, either.
The next time Ertz throws in front of a crowd, he will try to show it off the way he already has in front of his teammates.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett