Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Carson Wentz comfortable pushing ENTIRE Eagles organization

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PHILADELPHIA -- He is one of the NFL's most curious case studies, a Birkenstock-loving control freak who parlayed an off-the-beaten-path collegiate experience into a starring role in one of America's most hypercritical sports cities.

Now firmly entrenched as the Philadelphia Eagles' franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz was characteristically proactive during the dog days of summer, hosting eight of the team's receivers in early July for a de facto passing camp in Fargo, where he starred for FCS power North Dakota State. In addition to several days of workouts, Wentz treated his guests to a lakeside barbecue, jet-ski rides and paddle-boarding excursions, and a grand time was had by all.

Well, there was one exception.

"We had a golf scramble, which was just a disaster," Wentz recalled Saturday after an Eagles training camp practice. "Anytime you play 10 holes in four-and-a-half hours -- 10, because we needed a playoff hole -- it's not exactly a great situation. No one knew golf etiquette. People would step right around the cup ... They'd be yelling, 'Hey, Torrey!' while someone else was about to hit. They just didn't understand."

For someone as tightly wound as Wentz -- the young man has a Type-A-plus personality -- this was not exactly a comfortable situation. Yet it paled in comparison to the spring and early summer Wentz experienced a year ago, when the No. 2 overall draft pick arrived in Philly as a third-string-starter-in-waiting.

"Last year at this time was such an uncomfortable situation for him," recalled tight end Zach Ertz. "He's such a natural leader, and for him to sit back and let the other quarterbacks do their thing, it was difficult. Now he's the face of the franchise, and there's a level of comfort."

Wentz's reality changed last Aug. 30, when Minnesota Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater suffered a severe knee injury in practice. Four days later, the Vikings traded a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 conditional fourth-rounder to the Eagles for starting quarterback Sam Bradford, scuttling the plan to have Wentz watch and learn during his rookie campaign.

First-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson elevated Wentz, who'd been sidelined by a preseason rib injury, above second-stringer Chase Daniel. Eight days later, Wentz shined in a 29-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns that launched a three-game winning streak to start the season -- and what Wentz's employers believe will be a long, fruitful era.

In retrospect, Wentz said he struggled more with his reality before getting thrown into the fray.

"Yeah, it was tough," he said. "It would have been one thing if I just knew my role. I would have owned it. But getting drafted where I did and knowing the writing is on the wall, it's a fine line to come in and be myself while taking reps with third-stringers. Then I got hurt and [Bradford was traded] and all of a sudden, eight days before the season, I was the guy -- and there was no looking back."

Wentz's rookie season wasn't totally smooth. He struggled during a five-game losing streak in November and December that doomed the Eagles' playoff hopes. After Philly finished with a 7-9 record, Wentz -- who threw for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing 62.4 percent of his passes -- sat down for an exit interview with general manager Howie Roseman and boldly asked, "What are you going to do over the offseason to improve this team?"

Roseman's resounding answer came on March 9, the first day of free agency. The Eagles signed former Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery, a talented but injury-plagued playmaker, to a one-year, $14-million deal and nabbed ex-49ers and Ravens deep threat Torrey Smith for $15 million over three years.

Jeffery, a 6-foot-3, 218-pounder who is still only 27 years old, averaged 87 catches for 1,277 yards and eight touchdowns over the 2013 and '14 seasons before injuries and a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy reduced his productivity.

The 28-year-old Smith, who had big seasons for the Ravens in 2013 (65 receptions for 1,128 yards) and '14 (11 receiving touchdowns), similarly fell off during the past two campaigns after signing a free-agent deal with the Niners. A 6-foot, 205-pound speedburner, Smith believes he and Jeffery can transform a previously weak receiving corps.

"I expect it to be a strength," Smith said. "Honestly, with us coming in, I think it's elevated everybody's game. Guys are coming along. You're only as good as your weakest link."

Pederson believes last year's young starters, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, can thrive in supporting roles. Plagued by drops and a lack of confidence, Agholor has been working in the slot and, said his head coach, "no longer feels like he's gotta do everything. It's a trickle-down effect. ... After last season, we felt, He's our franchise quarterback, so let's build around Carson. In Year 2, with the players we've assembled around him, we can begin getting creative."

To Brent Celek, the Eagles' 11th-year tight end, the Jeffery/Smith tandem could evoke memories of the 2009-12 seasons, when DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin teamed to give Philly a pair of elusive playmakers on the outside.

"Back when we had DeSean and Maclin, we could just feast in the middle, because people were so preoccupied with them," Celek recalled. "Hopefully that's what we can get back to now. In recent years, the safeties haven't been very concerned with what's taking place on the outside. Now, they'll have to be."

Wentz, of course, will be concerned with everything taking place in the Eagles' universe. Though some might be confused by his affinity for Birkenstocks -- "Call it 'Fargo Fashion,' " said Ertz, rolling his eyes -- Wentz doesn't have an ounce of crunchy, laid-back hippie in his DNA.

Said Pederson: "You catch yourself saying sometimes, 'Carson, don't worry about that right there. That'll take care of itself.' In the spring, he'd text me and say, 'Hey, who are you guys looking at (in the draft)? What are you working on today?' I mean, I'm having a staff meeting and I don't really need the extra input."

Asked if he texted any advice to his bosses while the Eagles were on the clock during the draft, Wentz smiled and said, "No comment."

In other words, while he may be an expert in golf etiquette, Wentz doesn't care much for decorum when it comes to lobbying his superiors.

"I'm excited by who they brought in and where we are," Wentz said. "We know what we had last year, and how close we were to having a really good season. I can't wait for the season to start."

As Wentz's receivers discovered during their ill-fated golf scramble, he's not a big fan of waiting.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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