Eagles

Carson Wentz itching for contact, chemistry in preseason opener

Carson Wentz itching for contact, chemistry in preseason opener

Carson Wentz strolled to the podium Tuesday after Eagles practice with a cut hand and bloody towel. No big deal, but a reminder of the fragility that comes with playing football and limited Wentz to 24 preseason passing attempts a year ago. A fractured rib in his first game as an Eagle knocked him out for the rest of 2016’s exhibitions. 

A lot has happened in the year since. The Eagles traded Sam Bradford to Minnesota and promoted Wentz from third-string rookie to full-time starter. Come Thursday, when the Eagles take on the Packers in Green Bay for their first preseason game of 2017, the team will be cautious with its franchise quarterback. Wentz will start, head coach Doug Pederson said, but it would be a surprise if he played more than a series or two. 

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. For the first time in what feels like forever, Wentz will wear a jersey that is not red. He grew up as a fan of Brett Favre and will play at Lambeau Field, the stadium Favre roamed for years. He'll get a chance to try out his new toys on offense and possibly get knocked down to shake off the cobwebs. Then he’ll likely watch at least three quarters of Matt McGloin and Dane Evans running the offense.

“Obviously, he’s not going to play a ton in the preseason,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday. “It’s more about the consistency of practicing every day, where last year he missed so much time.

“But there is something to build on the chemistry with your guys in the huddle and having some success. You want to build that confidence.”

That chemistry is part of the preseason’s appeal. Wentz has new weapons in wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount. But Jeffery hasn’t participated in team drills in a week because of a shoulder issue, and Blount missed three days last week because he had to tend to a personal issue. 

Thursday night will be everyone’s first chance to get acclimated to how the other operates on game day. Not to anyone’s surprise, Wentz said he’s excited.

“Just get out there with the new faces in the huddle,” Wentz said of what he plans to get out of the game. “Get used to these game situations. I think situational football is a big part of the NFL and being smart in those situations.”

And if the situation entails throwing the football, Wentz will face pass rushers who can actually hit him. That’s not the case even when the Eagles include live tackling during practice, which itself is rare. Wentz could get hit and that’s a good thing. Last year’s injury hasn’t affected his mindset.

“If you're scared to get hurt, you wouldn't play this game, ultimately,” Wentz said. “I think the live pass rush will be good to go out there and start feeling some things. In practice, you try to make it game-like, you try to react the way you would, but when you're live, things are a little different.”

The situation with Wentz’s protection could contribute to how often the Packers infiltrate his pocket. Starting right guard Brandon Brooks missed practice Tuesday with what Pederson called an ankle strain. Chance Warmack has filled in so far.

“The good thing about what we did this offseason was we got some depth up front,” Wentz said. “So whoever it is that'll step up on Thursday night, I know they'll be ready.”

Wentz sounds like he will be ready, too. He just won't have to be ready for much.

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

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Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Mack Hollins
Roob: Hollins wasn't really a factor later in the season, once Torrey Smith got going, but he did show early in the year what kind of player he can be, notably with that 64-yard TD catch in the second Redskins game. Depending on what the Eagles do about Smith, Hollins should be either the Eagles' third or fourth receiver this fall. Either way, he'll be here, and I expect him to make a big jump in Year 2.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Hollins caught just 16 passes as a rookie and it seemed like he just never started producing the way he seems capable of. Even when Smith struggled, Hollins got more playing time and didn't produce. The good news is he's still young and plays a role on special teams. The Eagles will probably bolster their receiving corps in some way, but if they don't, Hollins will have a shot at starting if Smith is gone next season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alshon Jeffery
Roob: Jeffery really played better than his stats this year. He made every big catch, caught every big third-down pass, made huge plays in the end zone. Jeffery was a star receiver without a star receiver's stats. His unselfish attitude carried over to the rest of the receivers and throughout the roster. And he did it all with a rotator cuff injury that required post-season surgery. Can't wait to see what Alshon can do healthy.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jeffery didn't put up eye-popping numbers during the regular season, but if you needed any proof he's a No. 1 receiver, go back and watch Super Bowl LII, when he made that ridiculous catch in the end zone for a huge touchdown. The good thing about Jeffery is he really doesn't care at all about his numbers. There are a lot of diva receivers in the NFL, but Jeffery clearly isn't one of them. All he cared about last year was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and he certainly helped get the Eagles there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Roob: Jenkins has so many roles on and off the field — community activist, NFLPA organizer, locker room leader — it's easy to forget just how good a player he is. Jenkins has been here four years and has had four very solid, very consistent, very productive seasons. He made his second Pro Bowl this year and joined Bill Bradley (3) and Dawk (7) as only the third Eagles safety since 1960 to make multiple Pro Bowls. Jenkins is signed to a cap-friendly deal through 2020 and should be an Eagle for many years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As important as Jenkins is to the Eagles as a safety and defensive back, you could make a legitimate argument that he's even more important to the team as a leader and man. There's a reason he became the guy to follow up Doug Pederson's postgame speeches. He isn't just the leader of the defense; he's the leader of the entire team. And on the field, he's still playing at a really high, Pro Bowl caliber level. He's 30 now but is still signed through 2020 and maybe outside of Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' most important defensive player. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

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Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Darrell Greene
Roob: The Hall of Fame cornerback is now 58 years old and 21 years removed from his last Pro Bowl season with the Redskins. Oh wait … wrong Darrell Green. This is Darrell GREENE, and he's a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard out of San Diego State who's been on the Eagles' practice squad most of the last two years. The Eagles liked Greene enough to keep him around the last couple years, and unless they see something in Chance Warmack that I missed, Greene has a chance to stick around as a young O-line prospect.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Greene has been around now for the last two seasons. He was without a team for most of 2017; the Eagles didn't bring him back to the practice squad until December. The offensive guard had some real potential coming out of San Diego State, and the Eagles paid him a lot of guaranteed money to sign as an undrafted free agent before 2016. But he's never really impressed them enough to stick around for good. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Roob: With Hicks, it's always about durability, not ability. Hicks has played more than half a season only once in his three NFL seasons, and since he's under contract for 2018 with a modest $2.068 million cap figure, he's obviously not going anywhere. The question is what the Eagles do with him after 2018 when he's due to become a free agent. Hicks can play. We all know that. He needs to prove this year that he can stay healthy in order to get a big-money deal a year from now.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Losing Hicks was a problem in 2017 and his absence started showing up late in the season. He's a big-time playmaker. It's a shame he got hurt last year because if he didn't, he'd be in line for a payday. For now, he'll be back in the final year of his four-year rookie contract until he can prove he's the same player he was pre-injury. 

Verdict: STAYS

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Roob: Grugier-Hill must be Howie Roseman's dream. He's signed at the minimum through 2019 but is an awfully valuable member of the roster — a reserve linebacker and emergency kicker and maybe the team's best special teamer. Kamu's not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He really doesn't play at all as a linebacker, but Grugier-Hill has become one of the best special teams players in the NFL and had a real chance to be named a Pro Bowler in 2017. He led the team in special teams tackles with 19 last season. He's still young, cheap and is a big part of Dave Fipp's group. 

Verdict: STAYS