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.

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

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USA Today Images

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

Sidney Jones went out for his first practice rep as a Philadelphia Eagle and had to resist the urge to break out in a huge smile.

"It was kickoff return," he said. "I was just so happy. I just looked around and couldn't believe it."

Jones, the Eagles' rookie second-round pick, practiced Wednesday for the first time since he blew out his Achilles during his pro day at the University of Washington back on March 11.

He probably won't play this year, but just being out there and practicing after 10 months of rehab was … indescribable.

"I can’t even describe how happy and excited I am," he said after practice. "It’s been a long road. I’m just happy to be back with my team.

“It’s been a long road to even play football. I haven’t played football since my last college game, which was approximately a year ago. It was a first step, and I can’t wait for the future."

The Eagles have a three-week window in which Jones is allowed to practice. After that, they have to either shut him down or activate him.

But Jones wasn't worried about any of that Wednesday. He was just thrilled to be on the field with the teammates who've helped him through this endless grind.

“It’s been a long journey," Jones said in his first interview since draft weekend in April. "I’ve had a great support system around me, everybody’s been helping me, telling me this, telling me that. 

"A few guys I reached out to or reached out to to me and gave me advice, people who’d hurt their Achilles before. Jason Peters helped me out a lot, Jordan Hicks helped me out a lot as well. Everybody’s been supportive."

The Eagles' defensive coaches threw a lot at Jones, treating him like a member of the active roster. He was in all the meetings, all the film sessions, out at practice watching. He prepared to play, even though he knew he couldn't.

It was all about keeping him engaged, keeping him involved, building toward 2018, when he'll presumably be a key member of this secondary.

"I think we'll see pretty quickly that he has a good grasp of what he's expected to do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Keeping his ears open and his eyes open has been his No. 1 job description over these last six months.

"I've been really proud of what he's done there. I would be very surprised if he can't go in and execute what we're asking him to do. There's certainly a lot of rust that goes into it. With all due respect to our trainers, they are not a challenge to cover, and he's only been working with those guys. 

"So we've got to take each step along the way. It's almost like the first week of OTAs for him. It's not even really a first week of training camp. It's more like first week of OTAs for him." 

Jones said that when he was drafted, he didn't expect to get so much support from his teammates, but he said the other defensive backs have made sure he's felt a part of things throughout his rehab.

"I didn’t expect the league to be like this, but my teammates, my DB squad, they’re awesome, they’re terrific," he said. "Those are my brothers. 

"It’s a real brotherhood around here, and they’ve had my back every step of the way."

Jones, projected as a high first-round pick before his injury, said the past year has really taught him to appreciate the game more than he ever did.

“I was always grateful," he said. "In college I would go out and just every day think how grateful I am but now that it actually happened … and I got injured, I really have to be grateful because it could happen again. You never know when it’s going to happen. Just have to take every day like it's your last and go out there and give everything you’ve got."

Jones said his surgically reconstructed Achilles felt 100 percent at practice and he said he actually wasn't even thinking about it when he was out there running around.

He said he feels further behind physically than mentally.

“Just got to take it slow," he said. "I’ve got to get into shape first, that’s the biggest thing, so I don’t hurt any other body parts and stuff. Just trying to get better every day. It’s just a process.

"Just trying to get my feet wet so next year I’ll have some feet on the ground. Something to work with."

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

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AP Images

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

Nate Sudfeld stood by his locker on Wednesday afternoon, early in his first week as the Eagles' backup quarterback, and claimed his game-day responsibilities won't change. He'll still be helping the starter to see coverages, go through plays and diagnose pressures. 

The only difference is he'll now wear a helmet and shoulder pads. 

Well, actually, there's one more difference. 

"I won't be dead tired when the game starts," Sudfeld said. 

During the first 14 weeks of the season, when Sudfeld was the Eagles' third-stringer, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo would put him through an intense 45-minute workout before each game. Sudfeld is grateful for those workouts, which helped him with throwing and footwork, but said DeFilippo "kills" him each week. 

Those workouts are over. Because come Sunday, thanks to Carson Wentz's torn left ACL, Sudfeld will be dressing for each game as the Eagles' backup quarterback behind Nick Foles. 

He's now just one play away from being the Eagles' starter. 

"I feel very confident," Sudfeld said. "I mean, I wasn't just sitting back, watching practice all year, just expecting to never play football. I was definitely getting ready in case something like this happened. It's my responsibility as a 3 to be ready to be a 2. One play away and then one more play away. So I definitely feel prepared being here however many weeks, 14 weeks, has really helped. But I've treated each week as if I was going to play. I feel very confident."

But the difference between Foles and Sudfeld is glaring. Foles has been a starting quarterback in the NFL before and even in Philadelphia (see story). He's been to a Pro Bowl. His experience has been lauded all week (see story).

Meanwhile, Sudfeld is 24. A sixth-round pick to Washington last season, he's never played in an NFL game. Heck, Sunday will be his first time dressing for an NFL game. He didn't even join the Eagles' active roster until early November, when the Birds signed him from the practice squad. And that was just to prevent the Colts from poaching him. 

Has the Eagles' faith in him as the backup validated his decision to stay? 

"I mean, I've always wanted to be here since I got here so I'm just very excited that they do think enough of me to give me the opportunity," Sudfeld said. "I'm looking forward to if my name does get called, being ready to go." 

Since joining the Eagles' active roster, he's been inactive every week. But the fact that they were willing to use a roster spot on him, knowing he would be inactive each week, speaks to the way the organization feels about him. 

Foles didn't hesitate during his press conference on Tuesday to include Sudfeld every time he mentioned the quarterback group. The two have grown extremely close during the last few months. 

"Nate's a tremendous player," Foles said. "I'm excited about his future. Really smart, works his butt off, he's got all the tools to be a great player in this league. He's been there. I'm always going to include Carson, me and Nate. That's just sort of how it's been every single day going to work. We're going to lean on that. I'm going to lean on Nate through this process and we have the kind of quarterback room where you can do that, so it's sort of awesome. He's a tremendous player and I'm excited about his future in this league."

While not much will change for Sudfeld on game day — unless of course something happens to Foles — his workload during the week is very different. With Foles now taking all of the first-team reps at practice, Sudfeld gets all the scout team reps. 

While he got a few scout team reps over the course of the last few months, most of his reps with the Eagles have been mental. Sudfeld has been in the building with Wentz and Foles every day to watch film at 6 a.m., the trio would prep for each team and go through everything together, but when they got onto the practice field, the top two guys got to play and Sudfeld became a spectator. 

Fans probably don't know much about Sudfeld. Until this week, there's a good chance most Eagles fans had never even heard of him. Well, Sudfeld was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana last year. He spent the entire 2016 season with Washington, but was cut on Sept. 2. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad the next day. 

What kind of quarterback is he? 

"It's hard to assess yourself," Sudfeld answered. "I'm very confident in my game and I think I can make all the throws. I think I can move if I have to. I think I know the game pretty well. I'm continuing to improve. I'm a work in progress, but excited what I know I can do."

Perhaps the thing Eagles fans might know best about Sudfeld is that he's tall, white and lanky, and folks would probably say he looked like Wentz if he didn't look exactly like Foles. He and Foles look so much alike that their teammates razz them for it and fans confuse the two (see story).

Just last week in Los Angeles, fans got the two confused. Fans thought Sudfeld was Foles, even though the Real Nick Foles was walking in uniform right in front of him. 

When it was pointed out to Sudfeld that no matter how well Foles plays, he'll probably feel it too. 

"True," Sudfeld said. "Hopefully he keeps doing what I know he can do so people love me walking down the street."