North Dakota is not tropical. Its beaches line lakes instead of the ocean. When vacation destinations are discussed, it does not come to mind for most — unless you're an Eagles skill position player who wants to get closer with the man responsible for giving you the football.
Eagles minicamp ended Thursday, meaning team activities are done until training camp begins July 24. But Carson Wentz said Wednesday he plans to host his offensive targets in his home state at some point in the next five weeks. Before beginning the long grind of a season that they'd like to see last through the end of the calendar year, the retooled Eagles offense will have time to be one with nature and one with each other.
"Beautiful summers up there, believe it or not," Wentz said. "It'll be fun to get together with those guys."
Fun is part of it. It's no secret that the Eagles' quarterback is an outdoorsman, and some fishing and hiking will undoubtedly take place. Jordan Matthews would like to try a bison burger. Rookie wideout Shelton Gibson used to fish a lot. Zach Ertz wasn't thrilled about the travel time from California, but said he will be in Fargo, a city Wentz "raves about," for the first time this summer.
"Wherever there's going to be a quarterback to throw, that's where I'll be," Ertz said.
Nelson Agholor, who seems to have reinvented himself from the drop-prone receiver he was last year (see observations), said he will be there too. Other skill players, like new wideouts Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, were not available for questions in the locker room Thursday.
Agholor, Ertz and Matthews were part of an Eagles group that went to San Diego with all three of the team's quarterbacks last summer. But even though North Dakota is different from coastal California, the goal of the trip remains the same.
"I think [the help that comes out of these trips is] huge. Not only on the field but off the field, and kind of just growing as well. Building that chemistry," Ertz said. "During these offseason programs and during camp, you never get to really hang out with anyone because everything is so football-focused. But when you get that downtime to relax and just hang out with the guys, I think it's really refreshing."
Coach Doug Pederson has made similar bonding efforts. He took the team paintballing last week, and was happy to see the man at the helm of his offense take charge in forming what he called a "band of brothers."
"I think it just shows the leadership that Carson has and the type of rapport he has with the receivers and the confidence he has in his guys," Pederson said. "It's something that's exciting as a coach, to know your guys are getting together these next couple weeks and working on their craft."
For someone new to town like Gibson, that last part is key. He hasn't worked with the first team all that much and would've understood if Wentz wanted to spend his time off with other veteran newcomers whom he'll be throwing to more often, such as Smith and Jeffery. But, no, everyone is included.
And Matthews, the longest-tenured receiver on the team, recognized that more time together and more reps together can only be positive.
"Are you gonna win the Super Bowl out there? Probably not. But at the same time, does it hurt? No. It's always good to build that team camaraderie," Matthews said. "... I'm just looking forward to going there and spending time with the guys and when it's time to work, get to work."
Pederson said he was proud of the work that the team has put in, but that the coming five-week gap shouldn't signal an end. Especially for the rookies, who have come in and learned new material, he sees this time off as an opportunity to refresh, but still retain everything that's come their way since signing on with the team.
"I mentioned to them that training camp's going to be tough and physical and I want them to be prepared mentally and physically," Pederson said. "... Again, if they're with teammates, take care of each other, be smart, make good choices and good decisions, and get their minds and body ready for July."