A lot will be expected of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz this season, and it starts with this week’s organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex, as “Phase 3” of Doug Pederson’s offseason starts in earnest.
Wentz spent some time with his new receivers the last few weeks, mostly learning the playbook and finding out what it feels like to guys you don’t expect to drop the football (Phase 2, it seems), but Tuesday provided some resistance for the revamped offense, lining up against the Eagles defense for the first time.
Remember, this is Wentz’s first offseason as an NFL player, and his first OTAs as a leader in the locker room. Sam Bradford was the starting quarterback at this time last year, and Wentz was a wide-eyed rookie still trying to figure out the facility, let alone learn the plays. This year, it’s all on him. And in his press conference Tuesday, he was predictably confident in how things are going so far.
“Coming into this offseason,” Wentz said, “I realized it was a big offseason for this offense, really this whole team. For me coming in last year was a little different story. Just trying to get my bearings straight, I barely knew where the locker room was — a lot of things going on, it was pretty wild. So now it’s just really focusing on these guys, and focusing on this playbook and how we can start building something special.”
Wentz enters OTAs with a new top receiver in Alshon Jeffery, a new starting running back in LeGarrette Blount and a new speed option out wide in Torrey Smith, whatever he’s able to provide at this point in his career. Jordan Matthews should still be a big part of this offense as a slot receiver — he joked that rumors of him being traded were “fake news” — but no matter what Doug Pederson says about Nelson Agholor’s new attitude this year, or Dorial Green-Beckham’s size, it’s clear the Eagles saw a need to give Wentz more reliable options on offense, and they did it.
It might just take a while for things to start clicking.
“It’s a work in progress, no doubt about it,” Wentz admitted. “It’s a work in progress with guys that I’ve been with here for a year now. It’s an ongoing process. You’re putting in new plays, new routes, things are always changing, so it’s a process. I feel very comfortable with them at the same time, but we’re still going to build that relationship.”
Pederson’s task as both head coach and offensive guru is to find ways to put Wentz in the best position to succeed, in the offseason and come September. That process started with making Wentz rest and recharge after the season, a year in which he threw a record 607 pass attempts as a rookie.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen, No. 1, is leadership,” Pederson said of Wentz. “He’s come in here ready to go. He’s come in here eager, excited about the offseason, working with the new guys and the guys from last year. That’s what I’ve seen. I’ve seen him come in rejuvenated.”
Though just a rookie last year, Wentz grew up fast, and on the job. He played 1,127 offensive snaps last season, the second-most on the team and the second-most in the NFL for quarterbacks behind only Drew Brees. He threw 607 passes, completing 379, but he was on the field for 638 passing plays, per pro-football-reference.com, accounting for 32 sacks, with 11 fumbles. Do you want to know what kind of trial-by-fire Wentz’s rookie season really was? He was on the field for 406 passing plays…of 7-to-10 yards. Dak Prescott of Dallas, for comparison, was only on the field for 483 passing plays total.
“The rest for sure has helped,” Wentz said. “More than anything, just the mind. Resting the mind after that last offseason, that was a whirlwind. I’m feeling very refreshed and very good.”
Pederson commented on how laid back this offseason has been for Wentz compared to this point last year, saying, “he had played a bunch of football, he was coming off his world tour, he had just been drafted. Now he’s had a chance to just sit back and, you know, look at the regular season last year and make the necessary corrections and adjustments and learn from it.”
Adjustments will have to be made. After starting the season unblemished in September, both in terms of turnovers and wins-and-losses, things fell apart a little in October…and the rest of the campaign. The Eagles were 1-3 in four games in the season’s second month, and the third month, and the fourth month, before going undefeated again in January in a meaningless Week 17 victory. Wentz started the season with five touchdowns and no interceptions in September, before a 12-game span in which he threw nine scores and 14 picks. The Eagles went 3-9.
Surely that wasn’t all on Wentz, and this is not to suggest QBWINZ mean anything in the NFL. But clearly after a red-hot start to his career, NFL defenses caught up to him. Now he has to catch-up back. He seems ready to do it, too; and ready or not, he’s willing to try.
Wentz spent part of the offseason working on his footwork to improve his overall mechanics. Often in his rookie season — and something scouts noticed in college — Wentz was high on his deep throws. He also tried to force balls in where there wasn’t room, a product of trying to do too much without many offensive weapons to help, and a rookie from a small school trying to learn how to beat NFL defenses. With a year under his belt, and his mechanics tweaked, he seems more confident than he did last year, if that’s even possible.
“I just feel more comfortable with everything… As the year went on I think you could see I was more comfortable escaping the pocket, making plays. That comes with time. It comes with knowing when to force it and push the ball down the field and knowing when it’s time to go, when it’s time to go and make a play.
“It’s an ongoing learning process. Learning when to throw it away. Learning when to take that chance. I do think that’s a big part of my game — as a whole offense we can get better at — when things break down, there’s a lot of big plays that are out there to be made.”
The weapons around him will help, especially knowing if he throws the ball up to Jeffery it will have a different projected outcome than lobs to Agholor or Dorial Green-Beckham. That should calm a young signal-caller down on third-and-long, or in the red zone. Knowing if the team needs one yard to secure a win he has a bruising back who probably won’t fumble the football or get hurt? That should help the short-yardage situations a ton.
Having been there, and done this for a full season in the NFL? That’s invaluable this time around.
“It’s come very kind of naturally, organically, as a quarterback here,” Wentz said. “Being a leader kind of goes hand in hand. I’ve been looking forward to that and it continues to grow every day.
“The longer we’re playing this game, the more experience we have, we can all step up our leadership for sure.”