Eagles

'Feeling free,' Carson Wentz reminds us why he's so special

'Feeling free,' Carson Wentz reminds us why he's so special

Fans can breathe a sigh of relief after a vintage Carson Wentz performance in the Eagles’ 32-27 win over Washington in Week 1.

Wentz eluded tacklers in the pocket. He threw accurately on the run. He converted multiple third-and-longs.

After back-to-back injury-shortened seasons for the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, there were finally signs Wentz is fully returned to his 2017 form.

“It looked like he was playing and wasn’t thinking about anything,” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. “That’s really it. There weren’t any injuries in the back of his mind.”

Though Wentz was a statistically improved passer in several areas last season, he never quite looked like himself coming back from a torn ACL. His feel for the pocket, mobility and vision were inconsistent, and with the added stress of playing through a back injury, he never truly got comfortable.

For the first time in over a year, there were a handful of moments during the same game where Wentz showed what makes him so special. Sure, he completed a pair of 50-yard touchdowns to DeSean Jackson — but a five-yard score to Alshon Jeffery was arguably his most impressive throw.

Wentz dipped under a potential sack, stepped through the pocket, rolled to his right and threw an absolute laser to Jeffery in the end zone.

“I was feeling free being able to get rid of the knee brace and just go play ball,” said Wentz. “It’s been a blessing, and I’m thankful for the way that recovery went.”

There were several times Wentz was on target while throwing on the run. He was also uncannily precise on third downs, seemingly no matter the distance, dropping back eight times on 3rd-and-7 or longer, converting four times with two touchdowns.

During his MVP-caliber 2017 season, Wentz was money on third downs and in the red zone. The fact that he was able to replicate that on Sunday is perhaps the best argument he’s all the way back.

“A lot of teams give up on third-and-long and just take a screen,” said Wentz. “We’re going to just take what is there sometimes, but we’re going to try to push the ball down the field when we can and make plays. It was good to see that we were able to do that today.”

Wentz did get off to a bit of a slow start, completing nine of his first 12 passes for just 45 yards while the offense sputtered on its first three series. Of course, he also didn’t play a single snap in the preseason or since early December of last season, so some rust was to be expected.

He shook it off early enough to lead the Eagles to a win, completing 19 of his final 27 passes for 265 yards — a 9.8 average — with three touchdowns.

“I thought he played within himself,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I thought he really saw the field extremely well. Distributed the ball well. Made the checks that we needed him to make. He played well.”

If he plays like this every week this season, Wentz will once again find himself in the running for an MVP award, and the Eagles will be playing deep into January.

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Is this the year Jordan Mailata goes from project to player?

Is this the year Jordan Mailata goes from project to player?

A couple years ago, when the Eagles drafted Jordan Mailata in the 7th round of the NFL draft, I asked him a question and he gave an answer that has followed him. 

How much did you know about American football just a few months before the Eagles drafted you? 

“Mate, as little as peanuts.” 

By the end of his first training camp, Mailata said he had reached a quarter of a bag of peanuts. And it’s clear he has made progress. But now, entering Year 3 in the NFL, it’s time to start asking if Mailata has finally filled that bag. 

In other words, is this the year Mailata goes from a project to a real NFL player? 

“Look, I’m always as honest as I can be. I don’t want to lead you down a garden path, OK,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said last week on a Zoom call with reporters. “So I always try to tell you that absolute truth; you guys know that. … I can’t answer that question right now.” 

Hopefully, we get our answer soon enough. 

Stoutland said the reason he couldn’t answer that question is because he needs to see Mailata do it on the field. That might have hit a snag last week, when Mailata was one of three Eagles placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he either tested positive for COVID-19 or was exposed to somebody who did. Lane Johnson said publicly that he tested positive. 

So, obviously, everyone is hoping Mailata is healthy; that’s more important. But he also can’t afford to miss any grass time, especially in a training camp that won’t have preseason games. With such limited game experience in his life, those preseason games were more important for Mailata than any other player on the roster. And now he’ll have only training camp practices and that will only happen once he’s off the Reserve/COVID-19 list. 

The good news is that Stoutland is very optimistic. 

“I can say this: In the meetings that we have, the virtual meetings, he was a completely different guy in the meetings,” Stoutland said. “And, you’re going to say, ‘What do you mean by that?’ His confidence level. Because we require these guys to know a lot and to be able to convert blocking schemes and calls. Completely, completely different in the meeting. 

“Now, will that carry over to the field? Every morning when I come here I pray that’s what will happen. Do I think that will happen? Absolutely. But I can’t guarantee that. We’re going to find out, though. That’s what this is all about. And if it does carry over then we got action. We’re going to be in good shape.”

This offseason, Halapoulivaati Vaitai left in free agency and got a big contract with the Detroit Lions, which means the Eagles’ depth at offensive tackle took a big hit. But then they drafted two players with tackle experience and brought back Jason Peters to play guard and also be insurance at tackle. 

So the Eagles have options if Mailata doesn’t work out or if he isn’t ready. But in Year 3, it’s probably time to get past the project phase. 

Mailata is still just 23 but in his first two NFL seasons he still hasn’t played in a single regular-season game. And he has ended both years on Injured Reserve with back injuries. 

But all the traits the Eagles saw in Mailata when they drafted for former rugby player to play offensive tackle are still there. 

Mailata is 6-foot-8, 346 pounds, incredibly strong, athletic and willing to learn. And in last year’s preseason, he looked good. We saw progress. Really, we’ve seen progress every time Mailata steps foot on a football field. 

But is he ready to be an NFL player and not just the guy trying to become an NFL player? 

We’ll find out soon enough. 

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Eagles coaches 'never felt more safe' at NovaCare Complex

Eagles coaches 'never felt more safe' at NovaCare Complex

On Friday, two days before Eagles head coach Doug Pederson tested positive for COVID-19, several of his assistant coaches spoke about how effective they believe the Eagles’ safety protocols are inside the NovaCare Complex and how safe they consider the facility.

The Eagles, under the direction of vice president of football operations and compliance Jon Ferrari, reconfigured the South Philadelphia facility over the last several weeks to comply with NFL safety measures once the players arrived.

On Monday, the Eagles' so-called IDER plan – that stands for Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan – was approved by the league, meaning the team's plan to deal with the virus in the facility met the safety standards required by the league and the players' association.

Yet here we are.

Without knowing how or where Pederson contracted the virus, it’s impossible to determine whether the safety measures are working. 

If nobody else in the building contracts it, they’re working. If it turns out there are additional positive tests within the building in the coming days, it’s possible that even the strictest adherence to the safety measures isn’t enough.

We’ll know more in the coming days, but offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, running backs coach and assistant head coach (and interim head coach) Duce Staley and special teams coach Dave Fipp all spoke on Friday about how effective the measures the Eagles took to create a safe working environment appeared to be.

Stoutland: “Coming through the front door, going through the gate, getting tested each morning, I gotta tell you guys, I’ve never felt more safe in my life. I told my wife that, I told my kids that. Mr. (Jeff) Lurie, he cares about his team, his coaches, and just proves it once again with the group of people that he’s put together to organize this whole operation. It’s all different, it’s all new, (team president) Don Smolenski, Jon Ferrari, it’s unbelievable. Every little detail that’s going on right now, the door handles, everything that I notice, I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, they think of everything to keep us safe.’ That part of it is great I think for all of us because it kind of lets you (know), ‘OK, let me just focus on my job and detail what I have to do and the other stuff, we’re good. We’re going to be in good hands.’”

Staley: “We have to be careful, that’s something that all coaches are being redundant with. We’re talking with our players, we’re talking amongst ourselves. We’re all reminding each other how serious this is, reminding ourselves as coaches and reminding the players. This is a different time for us and as a team we must make the adjustments so we can be successful down the road. We must make the adjustments. I think the Eagles, this organization, Howie, Jeffery, along with Jon Ferrari, they’ve got a great plan here for us while we’re in the building, so we feel 100 percent safe in the building. Now, we understand everything going on, how it can be contracted, but we feel safe.”

Fipp: “I think common sense is the biggest thing. Gotta be smart, obviously. There’s definitely an issue going on out there. I think we feel good about it as long as we wear masks and take care of our responsibility outside the building. I feel great about being inside the building.”

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