Carson Wentz, Eagles' receivers forced to develop chemistry on the fly

Carson Wentz, Eagles' receivers forced to develop chemistry on the fly

There’s no way to replace all the time they’ve missed. No way to squeeze an entire offseason of practice time into just a few days.

The Eagles’ receivers all of a sudden showed up at work on Monday and had a new quarterback, and the transition from Sam Bradford to Carson Wentz is going to take time.

There’s no way around it.

“I remember when I was young, it seemed like things were flying all over the place,” veteran tight end Brent Celek said of Wentz. “So the people around him, we just need to elevate our game and help him in any way possible. Be in the right place at the right time so he can rely on us. ...

“It’s hard to give him any advice ... because this is going to be his first start in an NFL game, and I know that crowd is going to be roaring, so I’m sure he’ll be amped up a little bit. But after a few plays he’ll settle down and be himself, and we’ve got to have some success, help him out.”

Wentz did not practice from Aug. 12, the day after he broke two ribs in the Tampa preseason game, until this past Monday, when he was cleared medically and also took over the reigns from Bradford.

Now he’s the starter for the regular-season opener against the Browns on Sunday.

How tough an adjustment will it be?

Jordan Matthews won’t use that word. He doesn’t believe in it.

“I don’t like to say the word tough, you know?” said Matthews, who didn’t practice with Wentz until this week. “You go with what you got. And it happened, so all you’ve got to do is always look at the positives, and the positives are that everybody here believes in Carson. Top to bottom, that’s the feeling.

“You can kind of feel it, Carson’s ready. This game’s not too big for him. We’re excited for him, I’m excited to go out and play with him. It’s shocking because you aren’t ready for it, but at the end of the day, obviously it’s a business and once teams started having some quarterbacks going down, some quarterback issues, you could read the writing on the wall.

“We were the one team that had two quarterbacks who can be looked at as franchise guys and then the thing was we just drafted the guy everybody thought was a franchise guy in Carson. So once he came out in spring camp and showed everybody that he was mentally and physically prepared, then when that situation happened, yeah, you’re shocked, but you kind of understand.

“We get a first-round pick, it makes sense. Trust me, I’m the main person who wanted Sam here. I wanted him to come back, and glad I got to spend some more time with him, but you have to still deal with the facts and the facts were that we were able to get a first-round pick out of it and they knew Carson was ready, so when something like that happens, hey, you go with who you got and try to win a game.”

Wentz was working with the third-stringers most of camp when he was healthy, and those guys — Paul Turner, David Watford, Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson — are either on the practice squad or no longer with the team.

So the main group of receivers— Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham — plus tight ends Celek and Zach Ertz has a lot of catching up to do.

“Get in early and work with him, come in early, stay late,” Huff said. “It’s definitely hard. It’s like you started work for the first time and they gave you a desktop full of work and they expect you to finish it in a week. But that’s something you’ve got to do as a professional. Get down the chemistry and make sure we’re right for Sunday.  

“I got some work with him during training camp but after that I really haven’t gotten any with him. Hopefully, we don’t have those growing pains, but if we do, that’s expected. But Carson’s a smart dude. I don’t think it’ll be too much for him to handle.”

Celek has played with Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Kevin Kolb, Mark Sanchez, Vince Young, A.J. Feeley, Mike Kafka, Matt Barkley, Trent Edwards and Bradford.

So Wentz will become QB No. 12.

“It’s an adjustment but I don’t think it’s that big,” Celek said. “We’ve been practicing with him for some time now, and I’m sure he’s getting more and more comfortable being out there with us.

“We as receivers need to be in the right spot at the right time to make it easy for him, and then we’ve got to block for him and keep people off of him so he can make easy throws. Do what we do and do it well.”

For Green-Beckham, Wentz is his third starting quarterback in a month. He was in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota until he was traded to the Eagles in mid-August, and just as he was starting to build up chemistry with Bradford, Bradford was shipped to the Vikings.

“We don’t have too much time, so we have to take advantage of practice and after practice and try to get the timing right,” DGB said. “Not being here during OTAs, it hurts, but after practice is the only time we have to get ready.”

Matthews is entering his third NFL season and already on his fourth quarterback.

He played eight games with Foles, 10 games with Sanchez and 14 games with Bradford.

“It’s different but it’s something I’m used to,” Matthews said. “When I was in high school I played with five different quarterbacks. At Vanderbilt I played with six different and I think this will be my fourth different in three years in the NFL.

“So I still approach the game from the aspect of, I’ve got to make sure I do my job better than anybody so that whatever happens around me, I’m still there for my teammates, whether it’s the quarterback, whether it’s new receivers coming in, whether it’s an O-line that maybe I have to get open quicker because of timing.

“Anything like that, I’ve got to make sure I handle my job. So yeah, sometimes it’s a challenge, but at the same time it’s something I’m really used to.

“It does make it exciting when you know you’ve got a guy who is in there who can play and a guy who’s going to be here a long time in Carson, so I’m as excited as everybody.”

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Redskins again

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5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Redskins again

The Eagles finally snapped the five-game losing streak to Washington in the season opener on Sept. 10. 

Now they have a chance to start a streak of their own. 

Both teams have found success after that 30-17 Eagles win in the opener. The Eagles are 5-1 with the best record in the NFC, while Washington is 3-2 and second in the NFC East. 

With a win on Monday night at the Linc, the Eagles would be 6-1 and would put another game between them and their closest division opponent. So it could be a big boost (see story)

But remember, these division games aren't normally easy and until this season's opener, Washington had their number. 

Here are five matchups to watch on Monday night: 

Zach Ertz vs. Washington's safeties 
Washington hasn't been able to stop Ertz yet, so this is still a huge matchup problem. In the opener, he caught eight passes for 93 yards. That game kicked off what has already been an incredible season for the tight end. 

In nine career games against the division foe, Ertz has 54 catches for 531 yards. Ertz likes playing against Washington and it's not just his crazy numbers (see story)

And it's not just Ertz. Washington has struggled against tight ends all season. They lead the league in yards surrendered to opposing tight ends with 407 on 29 catches, with two touchdowns. 

Brandon Scherff vs. Fletcher Cox
Washington coach Jay Gruden admitted his team was beaten physically in the first meeting between these two. That started with Cox, who had a huge strip sack on Kirk Cousins in the first quarter. Because Scherff is a Pro Bowl guard, there's a good chance Cox will actually see plenty of 1-on-1 against him on Monday. He'll need to beat Scherff again. 

Scherff has been really good since Washington used the fifth overall pick on him in 2015, but this is his biggest test. And he'll get it twice per season in the next few years. 

"I think the Redskins have a fine offensive line," Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. "It's going to be one of our biggest challenges." 

Morgan Moses vs. Brandon Graham 
For what it's worth, Moses is ProFootballFocus' 17th ranked offensive guard. That's not great but he's not usually a liability and he's not a bad right tackle. But Graham absolutely spanked him the first time these two teams met. 

In that game, Graham had two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. If he has this kind of impact again, it's going to be a long day for Moses. 

LeGarrette Blount vs. Redskins' run D
Blount had just 46 yards on 14 carries in the first meeting but since then, he's really come on and Doug Pederson has shown a devotion to finding balance in his offense. 

Washington has been pretty good against the run, giving up 88 yards per game (eighth in the league). But they'll be without first-round pick Jonathan Allen, one of their top defensive linemen. 

Eagles' WRs vs. Washington's banged up corners
If Blount isn't heavily involved in the game plan on Monday it might be because Pederson sees opportunity in the passing game. Washington's starting cornerbacks Josh Norman (rib fracture) has been ruled out and Bashaud Breeland (knee) is questionable. 

Even if Breeland plays, he won't be 100 percent and they'll definitely miss Norman. Even though the backups have played pretty well, Carson Wentz will probably test this banged up Washington secondary early and often. 

If Washington is without both of their starting corners — or even if Breeland plays — expect Pederson to attack their backups. It could be a big day for the Eagles' passing game. 

Gunn on One: Brandon Graham on Eagles' hot start, slowing down Chris Thompson

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Gunn on One: Brandon Graham on Eagles' hot start, slowing down Chris Thompson

Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham is in his eighth season and is the longest-tenured player on the Birds' defense. He currently leads the defense with four sacks. Recently, I slowed him down just long enough to ask him some questions. The topics included the Eagles' 5-1 record and facing a key offensive weapon on the Redskins.

Gunner: With a 5-1 record, are you guys enjoying having that target on your back? Everyone in the NFC is gunning for you guys right now.

Graham: They didn't give us a chance in the beginning. We were going to be at the bottom of the NFC East. We got a lot of new guys, but we didn't have the chemistry, and now all we do is work. Nobody is worried about 5-1 right now. We're just worried about the Redskins. It's the next game up. We have another opportunity to go out and win a game. I guess after the season we'll look back and say, 'OK this is what we did.' I don't see guys getting caught up in 5-1. We just work.

Gunner: Speaking of the Redskins, a guy you have to watch closely Monday night is RB Chris Thompson. How special is this guy? He's their leading rusher and leading receiver averaging almost 19 yards per catch?

Graham: Man, he's good. He has good balance, good vision, fast. He's everything you want in a running back. I think we have a good challenge up ahead. We just have to play team defense, and rally to the ball. Get numbers to the ball and we should be fine.

You can see the extended version of my conversation with Graham Monday night at 7 p.m. on Eagles Pregame Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus.