Eagles

Carson Wentz's 'escapability was right on point' in Eagles' preseason opener

Carson Wentz's 'escapability was right on point' in Eagles' preseason opener

How good was Carson Wentz in the Eagles’ first preseason game of 2017? By some measures, the second-year quarterback was perfect.

Wentz completed all four of his pass attempts for 56 yards and a touchdown in his only series of work during a 24-9 loss to the Packers on Thursday (see Instant Replay). That’s an immaculate 100 percent completion rate to go with a sparkling 158.3 passer rating – the highest number possible.

He was only on the field 10 plays total, but Wentz was impressive while leading the Eagles across the goal line with a 38-yard touchdown to Mack Hollins. It was also far from a flawless performance, at least as far as the 24-year-old was concerned.

“I wouldn’t say perfect, first of all,” Wentz said postgame. “It was fun to see that out there. It was fun to get with the ones, to drive down, to score.

“We had a couple sloppy plays there, but we stayed on the field, we converted a couple third downs, a fourth down, and made enough plays there.”

The series was undeniably positive, especially for an Eagles team that found the end zone only four times on its opening drive last season.

“It’s obviously good for that first unit to go down and score like they did, come out and play fast,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s something that’s exciting to know they can do that and score early in games.”

Imperfections aside, that touchdown drive doesn’t happen without the quarterback.

Wentz made a pair of sensational plays during the drive, twice stepping out of sacks to deliver strikes and keep the chains moving.

“His escapability was right on point,” Pederson said. “For a big guy, he’s athletic and can move, and feels the pocket extremely well.” 

It’s an area of Wentz’s game that tends to go overlooked.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Wentz is not an easy person to bring down. Just ask Packers outside linebacker and six-time Pro Bowl selection Clay Matthews III, one of the defenders who was left grasping for air during the drive.

Matthews appeared to have the quarterback dead to rights. Wentz walked through the tackle attempt with relative ease.

“It’s always been part of my game,” Wentz said. “Honestly, it’s just instincts. In those situations, it’s instincts that take over.” 

Survival instincts, perhaps.

The Eagles’ offensive line was not at its best in this one. Right guard Brandon Brooks was out with an injury, and the Packers blitz more than most in preseason games, which opponents don’t bother to scheme. This is not an indictment of the O-line.

“You don’t want him moving around quite that much, but I thought he did a nice job,” Pederson said. “He kept his eyes, his vision down field. He was able to avoid the rush, and step up and deliver some nice throws on the run.

“That just shows his athleticism, his strength in the pocket, and we’re excited to see that.”

Wentz survived the onslaught, his best play unquestionably shaking a Matthews sack, then hitting Hollins for the touchdown that would make all the highlight reels.

“It kind of just turned into improvise mode, and Mack made a good play getting open,” Wentz said. “I found him and he did the rest. He had two pretty nasty stiff-arms there to finish off the play.”

Perhaps the moral of the story is Wentz being a lot tougher than he’s given credit for being. It was Hollins who stiff-armed would-be tacklers to the ground, but only after his QB extended the play.

Expect to see more of that.

“Training camp, all offseason, you don’t get touched, guys run by you and yell, ‘Sack,’” Wentz said. “Sometimes, you’re just like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you would’ve got me there, bro.’”

Wentz just proved even a guy like Matthews might not be able to finish him. Add that ability to the Eagles’ arsenal for 2017.

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

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AP Images

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

We all know about the myriad injuries the Eagles suffered on their way to the Super Bowl.

Nobody knew about this one.

Alshon Jeffery had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn rotator cuff that he played through all season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Per Rapoport, Jeffery suffered the injury in training camp this past summer. We did know Jeffery suffered some sort of shoulder injury during the summer. Even after he returned, Doug Pederson remained very cautious with Jeffery. At the time, that seemed strange. Pederson just kept saying he held him out at his own discretion, even though it seemed like Jeffery and Carson Wentz needed time to build chemistry. All that seems to make more sense now.

Rotator cuff injuries can be especially difficult for wide receivers (over-the-head catches) and any skill player who gets tackled to the ground. In recent years, rotator cuff tears have either ended the season or caused multiweek absences for Eric Decker, Martellus Bennett and Plaxico Burress, among others. 

Jeffery's ability to play the whole season with a shoulder injury makes what he was able to do all the more impressive. He made a quick impact, catching two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in Weeks 1-4, then scored seven TDs from Weeks 8-14 before turning in a strong postseason.

Along the way, Jeffery earned a new contract that pays him $26.75 million guaranteed with a full value of $52 million. 

Safe to say that playing through pain worked out. How crazy is it to consider now that on Wentz's crucial Week 14 touchdown pass to Jeffery in L.A., the QB had a torn ACL and the receiver had a torn rotator cuff.

Jeffery confirmed the surgery via Instagram story on Wednesday afternoon.

 

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

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USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

In the third part of our offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. 

We go alphabetically — Part 1 was Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett, Part 2 was De'Vante Bausby to Brandon Brooks. Today is Billy Brown to Vinny Curry.

Billy Brown
Roob: Don't be surprised if Brown makes the team next year. He's got good size at 6-4/255, and from what we've seen he has pretty good hands. We saw his catching ability at training camp last year, and he caught eight passes for 51 yards in the preseason. Brown spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad, but with the future of both Trey Burton and Brent Celek up in the air, Brown may be able to secure a roster spot with a good training camp. I expect Burton to get an offer in the $7 million per year range if he hits the open market, which the Eagles most likely won't be able to match, and Celek could either retire or get released to save cap space. Brown could be the next guy up.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After spending his entire rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad, Brown is going to have a pretty good shot to make the roster in 2017. Brown, who came from Shepherd University, was a training camp standout last summer. He's a converted wide receiver, so he has a good past as a receiving tight end. He has to prove himself, but the path to making the 53-man roster is there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Trey Burton
Roob:
Burton has gone from an undrafted free agent long shot to make the roster in 2015 to one of the most attractive tight ends set to hit free agency this spring. With his soft hands, versatility and tremendous athleticism, Burton should be in line for a multi-year deal in the ballpark of $7 to $7.5 million per year. Even the Super Bowl touchdown pass speaks volumes about Burton and his ability to stay cool and composed and make a play under extreme pressure and in a situation he'd never been in as a pro. You'd love to be able to keep Burton, but Zach Ertz is the Eagles' tight end and they just don't have the cap space for the luxury of a high-priced backup.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Burton is no longer a secret. The Eagles actually tried to extend Burton during the 2016 season, but the two sides were never really close. Burton wanted to bet on himself and now that seems wise. He played the 2017 season on a relatively cheap deal after being a restricted free agent last offseason. But now he's unrestricted this time around and other teams are going to be interested. Burton had his best season in 2016, when he caught 37 passes for 327 yards, but he did have a career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. He's going to get paid more for his potential, though, and it's going to price out the Eagles. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Roob: We continue Tight End Day with the 11-year veteran, one of the most popular Eagles of the past generation. Celek will one day be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, but now he's just another veteran with a $5 million cap figure that is just too high. Maybe Celek will help the Eagles avoid a major decision by retiring. Celek has plenty of interests outside football and he's 33 years old now and has a ring, and retirement may be attractive to him. Go out on top. Or maybe he'll take a massive pay cut down to the veteran's minimum and stick around another year and get the two yards he needs for 5,000. But I think it's most likely Celek won't be here next year. Whatever happens, he'll always be remembered as a champion.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is a tough one just because it's Celek. He embodies the city of Philadelphia better than anyone else on the team. He's also the longest-tenured athlete in the city. It's important to him to be a career Eagle, to never play for another team. But he just can't be back in 2018 on his current salary. It doesn't make good football or business sense. His cap number in 2018 is $5 million, which is just way too high for a reserve blocking tight end. It would be tough for the Eagles to flat out cut him, but if he doesn't want to retire and doesn't want to restructure down to nearly the minimum, that's what's going to have to happen. 

Verdict: GOES

Corey Clement
Roob: 
To go from an undrafted rookie free agent running back with virtually no history as a pass catcher to a 100-yard receiver in the Super Bowl in 10 months is just insane. Clement showed me enough that I believe he can be a lead back on this team. I think the plan will be to take a good long look at Jay Ajayi this coming season, with Ajayi and Clement splitting time, then decide after 2018 whether or not to keep Ajayi, who is due to become a free agent in another year. But under any scenario, Clement will be a major part of this team's running back corps for at least the next few years.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was wrong about Clement last summer. I thought he was a good running back but there was nothing special about him. I thought Wendell Smallwood deserved to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Oops. Clement had an incredible rookie season. The most incredible thing was that he became a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, something he had never been in college or even in high school. He did everything the Eagles asked him to do in his rookie season and excelled at everything. He hasn't just earned a spot on the roster; he's earned the right to be a part of the running back rotation going forward. 

Verdict: STAYS

Fletcher Cox
Roob:
I think Fletch might be around a while. Cox goes into his seventh season with the Eagles having made three straight Pro Bowls and is one of the most dominating interior linemen in the NFL. And he's under contract for the next five years. He stays. And will stay for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sometimes we all sort of forget how good Cox really is. As an interior defensive lineman, Cox doesn't always make flashy plays. But just ask around the league about the Eagles' defense and everyone comes back with one guy on their mind: big No. 91. There's a reason he's become a perennial Pro Bowler and there's a reason he got a $100 million contract last offseason. He's the engine to the Eagles' defense and we saw him elevate his game even more in the run to the Super Bowl by barely leaving the field. This is stupid easy. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Roob: Curry didn't really have the stat numbers to back it up, but he did play fairly well this year. He's got some massive cap numbers coming up — $11 million in 2018, $11.25 million in 2019 and $12.25 million in 2020. Those are astronomical figures for a guy who has nine sacks in his last 50 games. The Eagles could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing Curry, and that number goes up to $7.25 million next year and $10.25 million before the 2020 season. I think he stays this year, but those cap savings could be tempting for the cap-starved Eagles.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After a down season in 2016, Curry became a starter and had the best year of his career in 2017. Some folks will argue against that because his sack numbers weren't shocking, but Curry was just tremendously solid as a rusher and against the run in 2017. He's a big reason why the Eagles' defensive line was their top unit and why their run defense was the best in the NFL. But his cap hit of $11 million is a killer this year and first-rounder Barnett is ready to start. I think if Curry is back, it'll be after reworking that deal. But for now ... 

Verdict: GOES