Eagles

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

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USA Today Images

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

Washington head coach Jay Gruden has faced Carson Wentz just three times so far.

That's all he needed to think Wentz is special.  

"I think he's progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I've seen really," Gruden said on a conference call with Philly reporters on Thursday. "His ability to make plays in the pocket, his ability to stay in the pocket in the face of a rush and still deliver balls accurately, his command of the offense. 

"I think he's already proven this short in his career that he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, quite frankly, and he's going to be for a long time. And I don't know how he got to Philadelphia. And I'm very upset about that." 

Wentz is 1-2 against Washington in his first three games, but that first win came in this season's opener on the road. In that game, Wentz completed 66 percent of his passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, for a passer rating of 96.8. 

And Wentz has gotten even better since then. He's now the favorite in Vegas to win the NFL MVP. 

When asked how daunting it might become to face Wentz twice per season for the foreseeable future, Gruden pointed out that it's similar to the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Then he pointed out they still have to face Eli Manning twice per season. 

"Every week it seems like we're playing against an excellent quarterback and knowing that Wentz is going to be there for a long period of time just puts a few more gray hairs on my head," Gruden said. "But love the competition and it's our job to get after him and make him uncomfortable." 

While Wentz is clearly the Eagles' quarterback of the future, things are a little cloudier in Washington, where Kirk Cousins is in his second year of playing on a franchise tag. 

Gruden said the "intent" is to have Cousins for the long-term, but it's already been a long saga and there's still no deal in place. 

Cousins has had a crazy career path. He began as Robert Griffin III's backup after being taken three rounds later in the same draft in 2012. But he won the starting job and he's started every game for Washington the last three seasons. 

Thursday, on a conference call with Philly reporters, Cousins said he thought there was a good chance the Eagles were going to draft him in 2012. He felt that way after meeting with Howie Roseman and Andy Reid before the draft. But instead, the Eagles took Nick Foles 14 spots ahead of him. 

After watching the Eagles rotate quarterback since then, Cousins doesn't have any hard feelings. 

"I think the Eagles have ended up with the guy that they want," Cousins said. "I think they're really excited about Carson Wentz and for good reason. They're one of the best teams in the league on third down, and some of the plays he's making off-schedule are very special. I think they're very content and I'd like to think the Redskins are as well. Hopefully, it can make for a great rivalry that a lot of fans can get behind and get excited about, hopefully, for many years ahead."

Right side of Eagles' offensive line should be lock for Pro Bowl

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USA Today Images

Right side of Eagles' offensive line should be lock for Pro Bowl

If everything continues to go to plan this season, the trio of Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson won't be in Orlando in late January for the Pro Bowl. 

If everything goes to plan, the Eagles' right side of the line will be too busy preparing to play in the Super Bowl. 

They'll certainly be deserving of making it to the Pro Bowl though. 

"I want to, man," Johnson said about the whole right side of the line making it. "I don't want to campaign for myself. But as far as the years we're having, we're doing pretty good."

Sometimes recognition is slow to come for offensive linemen. Kelce has already been to two Pro Bowls, so the name recognition will help his cause. Meanwhile, Brooks has been in the league since 2012, and Johnson has been in the league since 2013; neither has made a Pro Bowl yet. 

But it's hard to argue with results and they're certainly deserving this season.  

While the Eagles lost future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters for the season in the second Washington game and while they have started three different players at left guard before settling on Stefen Wisniewski, the right side of the offensive line has been incredible through 11 games. 

Kelce and Brooks have started every game and Johnson missed just one because of a concussion and a Thursday night game. 

"It’s a luxury not only to have those guys healthy but just playing together and [having] three guys playing at a very high level," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "The consistency of that, the confidence in that just grows more and more every week."

Johnson has been playing at a completely different level all season. It's pretty clear he had a mission coming into the 2017 season. He wanted to prove he was one of the NFL's best tackles and he wanted to prove doubters wrong after his second PED suspension last season.

Through 11 games, Johnson has shut down top pass-rushers like Ryan Kerrigan, Von Miller and Demarcus Lawrence. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has played well enough at left tackle to allow Johnson to stay on the right side, where he has been simply dominant (see story). 

"I don't like to over-hype players, especially in the middle of the season, but Lane is playing great football," Reich said. "I just can't imagine there's a better right tackle in the league. I can't imagine there's any tackle — if you add up the cumulative guys that he's going to have to block by the time is year is over and their sacks, I mean, it's unreal."

Brooks has overcome his anxiety issues to start the first 10 games this season. The only snaps he missed came when he got a break at the end of the Denver game in garbage time. The former third-round pick, who joined the Eagles before last season as a free agent, has always had Pro Bowl potential. But he's starting to fulfill it this season. 

According to ProFootballFocus, Brooks hasn't given up a sack and has given up just one quarterback hit all season. 

"It makes it easier, man. He's having a Pro Bowl year," Johnson said about playing with Brooks. "I look at Kelce and Brooks. [Brooks] is 340-plus, whatever he is, and he just makes it a lot easier for me blocking inside."

Then there's Kelce, who is one of the longest-tenured players on the team. The center has been in Philly since he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and he's had plenty of ups and downs during his time. 

While he made the Pro Bowl last season, he didn't necessarily have a Pro Bowl season. Recently, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland took the blame for that, saying he asked too much of Kelce during the 2016 season. Kelce had a different reason for why things have been going so much better toward the end of last season and into this one. 

"I don't know about that," Kelce said, responding to Stoutland's comments. "I just know I'm utilizing different techniques. I'm using my hands better. Not just me, I think it's everybody. And then another year being in the system, in the offense, you're more comfortable, you understand everything better."

It's not incredibly rare for a team to send an entire side of its offensive line to the Pro Bowl. In fact, the Eagles did it as recently as 2014, when the left side of Kelce, Evan Mathis and Peters went. But that season Mathis played in just nine games. 

In the second year with the center, right guard and right tackle together, the chemistry is clearly at a new high. Rookie running back Corey Clement noted that the guys on that side of the line just seem to complement one another. 

What's it like running behind them? 

"It's an honor," Clement said. "Anybody can see it on the outside. Anybody who wants to be in this running back corps, you get a great group of guys who lay it out every week for you." 

Eagles' Harold Jones-Quartey can't wait to reunite with family in Ghana

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Dave Zangaro

Eagles' Harold Jones-Quartey can't wait to reunite with family in Ghana

Tell Harold Jones-Quartey you don't know much about Ghana and he becomes a living, breathing Wikipedia page. 

The list of facts begins: The West African country of Ghana used to be called the Gold Coast because, well, it had a lot of gold. The British influence in the country's culture is noticeable. They drink tea, call cookies biscuits and it's why Jones-Quartey's name is Harold and his brother is called Daniel. Ghana was one of the first African countries to gain independence from Great Britain. And it's one of the only African countries to never have a civil war. 

"I think that's pretty awesome," Jones-Quartey said. "That's my country. I can't wait to go back." 

Jones-Quartey, a safety the Eagles signed to their practice squad last week, was born in Ghana and although he hasn't lived there since he was 9, he still has a ton of Ghanan pride. 

After giving birth to Harold in 1993, Rosemond Odamtten moved to the United States. Her sons didn't move with her to Ohio until Harold was 9. They grew up in Ghana with their father and grandmother. 

And Jones-Quartey hasn't been back since. 

He hopes that changes soon. Jones-Quartey is planning on visiting his birth country next year, during the NFL offseason. Family is extremely important to Jones-Quartey, but this would be his first time back to Ghana in 15 years. And it would be the first time seeing most of his family since he was a small child. In addition to his dad and grandma, Jones-Quartey also has seven half-siblings in Ghana; he has met just three of them. 

"Oh my god. I can't wait," he said. "I honestly cannot wait."

While Jones-Quartey hasn't seen his dad, Emmanuel Jones-Quartey, in a decade and a half, he's in touch with him almost constantly. The two of them communicate every two or three days via WhatsApp or FaceTime. 

Being a boy living in Ghana wasn't so bad as he remembers it. Jones-Quartey has fond memories of that time in his life, especially of his dad and grandmother.

His older brother (by three years) Daniel remembers how tough it was to grow up without their mother. 

"It was hard," Daniel said by phone last week. "Being the oldest and knowing what was going on. My brother had no idea. There was a time I remember where my mom came to visit us and she walked right past my brother, she didn’t see him. He saw her and had no idea that was his mom. I had to tell him." 

Daniel thinks his brother was just about 2 or 3 years old in that story. Their mother would visit as often as she could and played a big role in funding their schooling back in Africa. 

Still, dad and grandma did a good job raising Harold and Daniel. Harold can't wait to see his grandma again; she was like a mother to him for his first nine years. Apparently, Harold said with a smile, he was her favorite grandson because he was darker-skinned than most of his other siblings and looked more like her. 

Road to Philly 
Emmanuel Jones-Quartey owns a bar and restaurant in Ghana's capital city of Accra that has become a little oasis for American football fans in West Africa — at least fans of his son. 

Jones-Quartey said his dad told him about a visitor who came into the bar and started talking about him. At that point, Harold was playing with the Bears. 

"I thought I was pretty cool," Jones-Quartey said, "because that's all the way in Africa." 

Back in the States, Jones-Quartey's football career was starting to take off a little bit. 

After going undrafted out of Findlay University in 2015, the safety signed a rookie deal with the Cardinals and had a good preseason in Arizona. He was waived by the Cards but claimed by the Bears and found a good landing spot. 

In that first year in Chicago, Jones-Quarty played in 13 games with four starts. Last season, he played in all 16 games and started 12. In 29 games over the last two years, he had two interceptions, seven passes defensed and a forced fumble.

But at final cuts this summer, Jones-Quartey was waived. In October, he spent one week with the Jets' practice squad before they let him go. He was jobless until the Eagles brought him in Nov. 14. 

"Honestly, I'm grateful for the opportunities that I have and I feel like God's given me another chance here and I'm excited to be a part of this organization," he said. "This locker room is great, everybody is great and accepting. Chicago was great and I'm very grateful for the opportunity they gave me but I'm looking forward to a new journey here."

Sorry, mom 
Jones-Quartey has made a career of football, which was a long shot not so long ago. In Ghana, the major sport is soccer, so American football took some getting used to. Jones-Quartey just seemed to have a knack for it. 

But mom wasn't on board. 

Odamtten was against the idea of her son's playing football. She's never really gotten over some of that. 

"She just doesn't like the physicality of the game," Jones-Quartey said. "But I'm usually the one giving the punishment. I tried to tell her that." 

Mom didn't listen and it caused a little rift in the relationship. After Jones-Quartey began to go to Horizon Science Academy, a school without a football team, during his junior year of high school, he decided he wanted to continue playing. He joined a Christian club team called the Columbus Crusaders. 

Mom kicked him out of the house. 

Jones-Quartey said that was the first time he had ever really stood up to his mother. Looking back, he realized he simply called her bluff. When she kicked him out, he gathered some things in a trash bag and moved in with Daniel, who lived about five minutes away. About a week later, his mother told him to come back, but at that point, he was comfortable living with his brother. 

"I always try to look at the positives," Jones-Quartey said about his relationship with his mother during those two years. "We've had some arguments and disagreements like everybody else, but at the end of the day, she loved me and wanted what was best for me. I felt like I knew what was best for me more than she did." 

Turns out, Jones-Quartey was right about his future in football. He earned a scholarship to Division II Findlay University in Ohio (about a two-hour drive from Columbus) and played in 43 games in four years for the Oilers. 

Daniel Jones-Quartey realized his brother had a chance to make a career out of football when he watched him in college. In the second or third game Daniel got to watch his brother play in the NFL, he saw him intercept a pass and make a huge hit. Daniel just happened to pull out his cell phone in time to record the hit and sent the video to his brother after the game. He's incredibly proud. 

"It's a dream happening right now," Daniel Jones-Quartey said. "I still wake up every day, scratching my head that this is going on." 

As for mom, she came around too. 

Kind of. 

"She has a lot more respect for it now," Daniel said. "She'll yell his name and stuff but I still don’t think she knows what's going on. She understands the scoreboard and which team she should root for, but she doesn't know what's going on." 

Pass the stuffing
This Thanksgiving, Jones-Quartey will be a little busy. He will be at practice with the Eagles as they prepare to face his old team Sunday afternoon. 

If he were not in Philadelphia for the holiday, he would be back in Columbus celebrating with his family. While Jones-Quartey wasn't born in the United States, he became a citizen when his mom did and the family has adopted Thanksgiving. 

Rosemond is the cook of the family. And while she's great at preparing African food, she goes traditional on Thanksgiving. The turkey goes either in the oven or a deep fryer. 

Jones-Quartey said he's never talked to his mother about how difficult those first nine years of his life had to be on her. They choose to look at the positives, the biggest of which is that she eventually got him and his brother to America and gave them an even greater opportunity in life. 

Family is the most important thing to Jones-Quartey. It's why he's grateful for his mother and brother in the States and why he can't wait to visit his family in Ghana in a few months. 

"Coming from Africa, there's not much, so everybody kind of looks up to me," he said. "I have to keep going."