Destiny Vaeao

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

Looking at the stat sheets can give a decent idea of how Carson Wentz is performing this season. 

It's just not the only way. 

The Eagles care about stats, sure. But they also care about the details that don't show up in the stat sheets. For example, the team even grades Wentz on his ability to carry through a fake after he hands the ball off. 

How good is he at it? 

"He carries out his fakes better than anybody I've ever seen," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think that helps us. You don't notice it a lot of times but it's those little things; the cumulative effect of those things, so that if we run play action, so that if he ever keeps something off of that. He takes a lot of pride, and it's one of the things that I think has helped him develop. 

"He works very hard and he doesn't take plays off in practice. I've never seen a quarterback carry out fakes like he carries out fakes and how serious he takes his ball handling and every aspect of it. It's excellent."

Carrying through his fakes isn't an area where Wentz has gotten better from Year 1 to 2. In fact, he said he developed the skill while in college, playing in North Dakota State's pro style offense. So he's always been pretty good at it. 

Wentz said he has always liked to see how defenses react. Fakes go both ways. He can carry through a fake after a handoff, but perhaps more importantly, he can fake the handoff into a naked bootleg. 

"Anything like that, any little thing that's going to help the play or give us an extra spilt second to get a backside cutoff block or something like that," Wentz said, "those are big things that I think … and I'm not the only one who does that. Everyone goes the extra mile to help their guys out. It's definitely a satisfaction you see when someone does have to honor that."

Let's get situational 
If you're looking for an area Wentz has greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2, how about situational football? 

Four games into the 2017 season, Wentz has thrived in some important parts of the game, specifically on third downs. 

"In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that's something we've talked to him about from the start: really what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football," Reich said. "That's third down and red zone. Then what kind of a knack do you have of making big plays on first and second down? That's really what separates those elite players.

"And so becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback's development. I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he's throwing to."

So how well is Wentz performing on third and fourth downs? 

Yeah, that's not bad. 

Overall this season, the Eagles have converted on 50.8 percent of their third-down situations, good for second in the league. For perspective's sake, they were 20th in the league in 2016 at 37.9 percent. 

"That, going back even to training camp, I remember you guys were always asking on the biggest thing I was focusing on and it was situational football," Wentz said. "And that comes from talking to Coach Reich, Coach (Doug) Pederson, Coach (John) DeFilippo. They were always harping that. Going back last year, watching the tape and just discussing, ‘alright, if this was the situation, what would you have done differently?' And those are things that I really took to heart, really focused in on."

While Wentz has greatly improved on third and fourth downs, there is still room to grow in the red zone. Through four games this season, Wentz has completed 9 of 17 passes (52.94 percent) for 60 yards and five touchdowns in the red zone. 

Wentz's completion percentage in the red zone is 14th in the NFL. At 55.56 percent, Wentz is slightly better inside the 10. 

Clement time
The Eagles will likely be without Wendell Smallwood (knee) this week against the Cardinals. That leaves just two of their original five running backs — LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — healthy for Sunday's game. 

After Darren Sproles went down, Smallwood assumed most of the team's third-down duties, but now he's out. So Clement might be the next guy up in those situations. 

"It's just the nature of the game," Clement said. "Some guys go down, some guys have great opportunities in front of them. It's about what I can do to better prepare myself for this game Sunday."

As a third-down back, Clement needs to be able to pass protect as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. Those are two areas he has worked to improve since his arrival as an undrafted free agent this spring. 

While catching the ball is important, the most important thing on third downs, especially for a rookie, is pass protection. The Eagles can't put Clement on the field to block if they're worried Wentz is going to get his head knocked off. Pederson said Clement has been "improving" as a blocker thanks to work with running backs coach Duce Staley. 

Clement credited Staley, along with Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his elder teammates — Blount, Sproles and Smallwood — for helping him. 

Getting back to Destiny
The Eagles might get back second-year DT Destiny Vaeao this week. That could be a nice boost for a team that's without Fletcher Cox again. 

Vaeao hurt his right wrist during the opener in Washington and has missed the last three weeks. That was a shame for Vaeao, who had a tremendous training camp, according to the coaching staff. 

"It's tough," Vaeao said about missing time. "Every Sunday that passed by, it hurts not playing. You just have to be patient and everything will come."

Quote of the Week I: "The whole (offensive) line is playing unbelievable right now. They're playing kind of pissed off. They just have an attitude about them, which is awesome to see." — Carson Wentz 

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, there's Bruce Arians!" — Brandon Graham, spotting FanRag reporter John McMullen on the sideline at practice wearing a Kangol hat

Quote of the Week III: "I thought I should have not tried to stiff arm him and just ran straight and I would have scored." — Blount's thoughts after he went back and watched his career-long 68-yard run against the Chargers.  

Random media guide note: If Rodney McLeod could be any superhero, he'd be Batman. 

Eagles Injury Update: Fletcher Cox (calf) out vs. Chargers; Kenjon Barner to return punts?

Eagles Injury Update: Fletcher Cox (calf) out vs. Chargers; Kenjon Barner to return punts?

The Eagles are flying to Los Angeles on Saturday morning for their game against the Chargers. 

Fletcher Cox won't be joining them. 

The Eagles' best defensive player will be officially ruled out for Sunday's game with a calf injury he suffered in the first half against the Giants, head coach Doug Pederson said. 

Is this a multiple-week injury for Cox? 

"He's actually feeling better today," Pederson said. "I don't think so, personally. When I mentioned day to day, it's really day to day with him. He is feeling better, though, even today."

Cox has missed practice all week. 

In addition to Cox, DT Destiny Vaeao (wrist), Corey Graham (hamstring), Jaylen Watkins (hamstring) and Ronald Darby (ankle) have also been ruled out for Sunday. 

Rodney McLeod (hamstring) and Jordan Hicks (ankle) are listed as questionable but both practiced in full all week and are expected to play. 

Without Cox and Vaeao, the Eagles are down to three defensive tackles. That likely means the Eagles will use defensive ends like Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham inside in certain situations. 

"There's a lot of flexibility here," Pederson said. "We haven't made a final decision yet on that. We'll get through today's practice, have a few more conversations with Jim (Schwartz) and Chris (Wilson) and go from there."

Meanwhile, it seems likely newly re-signed running back Kenjon Barner will be returning punts for the Eagles this weekend. Darren Sproles is done for the season and Torrey Smith has a big role on offense and doesn't have as much experience as a returner. 

This could be Barner's job to lose. 

"He's looked good," Pederson said. "We're continuing to work even some of the other guys on the roster there. He's got confidence, I've got confidence in him. He's done it before, so he's done a nice job."

Eagles Injury Update: Secondary hamstrung for second straight day

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Eagles Injury Update: Secondary hamstrung for second straight day

It looks like all three members of the Hamstrung Trio (see story) weren't practicing again on Thursday. 

At the start of Thursday's practice, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins, who suffered hamstring injuries on Sunday against the Chiefs, were not participating. This will be the second straight day all three will miss practice. 

McLeod was the only member of the trio to even make an appearance at practice before reporters were kicked out after individual drills. He walked onto the field with a compression sleeve on his right leg and began to watch.

There was, however, a new safety on the field. Newcomer Trae Elston, who was claimed off waivers from the Bills, was on the field for the first time with the Eagles. He was wearing No. 35. 

It'll be tough for the Eagles to get Elston caught up by game time on Sunday at 1 p.m. Aside from Elston, the Eagles have just Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos as safeties, although linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill could be used in a pinch and Jenkins thinks a couple cornerbacks have the ability to play safety (see story)

Ronald Darby (ankle) and Destiny Vaeao (wrist) were the other two Eagles who weren't practicing on Thursday. Darby is out for at least another few weeks with his dislocated ankle. 

Vaeao missed the Chiefs game and looks to be in danger of missing another week. In his absence, rookie sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls played nine snaps and played well. Qualls could see his workload increase as the fourth DT against the Giants.