It wasn't long before fans at Lincoln Financial Field erupted into chants of "We Want Wentz" during the Eagles' preseason opener. Finally, with 1:19 remaining in the second quarter Thursday night, the franchise's quarterback of the future entered the game.
For those hoping to catch just a glimpse of Carson Wentz's potential, he did not disappoint. The second overall draft pick impressed with his toughness and decision-making, and tantalized with his athleticism and arm strength.
"It was fun," Wentz said of his NFL debut with a beaming smile. "First opportunity I had, I'm running the two-minute drill, so I enjoyed that. I hadn't had a ton of reps lately in practice, but it was fun out there. I finally got to take some hits, it's been a while since that's happened.
"There are definitely some things to improve on for myself and as a team, but it was enjoyable."
Wentz completed 12 of 24 pass attempts for 89 yards and an interception in addition to running three times for 15 yards in the Eagles' 17-9 win over the Buccaneers (see Instant Replay). While the numbers might not amount to much, the 23-year-old was also victimized by four drops and wisely threw two balls away.
It was certainly a learning experience for the rookie signal-caller, but by and large, his first game was a success (see 10 observations).
"I thought some plays were made," Wentz said. "There were still some plays that needed to be made that were left on the field. The interception in the red zone is something you never want to do. That ball sailed on me.
"Overall, there's a lot of good things to build on and as a team, we're walking away with a win, so at the end of the day, that's a positive."
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was generally pleased with what he saw as well.
"By no means is he perfect or was anybody perfect tonight," said Pederson. "But pleased for his first outing and we’ve just got to continue to work with him on a daily basis and get him where he needs to be."
The turnover stands out as a negative, although it was arguably his lone mistake of the night. With the pocket collapsing and Wentz unable to follow through on the pass, he misfired for wide receiver Pat Turner and instead found Bucs safety Isaiah Johnson for the pick. Granted, the quarterback was getting hit as he threw, but taking a sack might've been a better decision.
Otherwise, Wentz was calm and collected under pressure. He stepped up in the pocket when there was space, but also showed tremendous ability to escape the rush when necessary and deliver the ball accurately while on the move. The play of the night was when rookie center Bruce Johnson snapped the ball early and the rest of the line didn't move, allowing the pass rush to get a free run at Wentz. He rolled to his right away from a defender and fired a strike to Turner down the sideline for a 10-yard gain.
Mobility and his ability to keep his eyes downfield were arguably the best attributes on display for Wentz on Thursday night.
"Some of those things were [naked boot legs], designed plays, some of them were just improvising," Wentz said. "But I feel confident on the move and I know that was something we wanted to get on tape a little bit.
"We were running the ball all right and I thought we had some good plays off the naked, so we'll see on the tape."
After the game, Wentz agreed mobility is one of his strengths.
"I think it's just my athleticism," Wentz said. "I feel comfortable making plays on the run. Sometimes the play was breaking down and I had to make a play, sometimes we snapped one early and the D-end was rushing."
Yet Wentz flashed more than talent. Playing behind a bunch of reserve offensive linemen, the North Dakota State product showed he was willing to stand back there and take a hit, even seeing and adapting to the defense's blitzes.
Wentz gave Eagles fans bit of a scare in the fourth quarter on his second-to-last play of the game, taking a shot from Bucs linebacker Micah Awe as he was throwing the football. For a moment, it looked like Wentz might have to exit the game, but shook it off and stayed on the field.
"Got one in the ribs," Wentz said. "It was hard to breathe there for a second, but all good."
It was not the only time Wentz escaped serious injury. On one called quarterback keeper, he failed to leap over a tackler and wound up getting flipped in the air, fortunately landing on his behind.
"Hope I don't land on my neck," said Wentz of what was going through his mind while airborne. "I landed fine though. I was good, but a lot of guys were like, 'Hey, you gotta get your butt down,' and I'll learn from that."
Pederson was hoping Wentz would clear the tackle. If he had, he might still be running.
"Kind of loved it," said Pederson. "Wish he would have hurdled the guy instead of taking one in the legs. You know the guy is going low on a big quarterback like that. They're usually not going to stay up. I wish he would have hurdled. The fact he'd done a lot of that in college, that was a no-brainer for me."
Count Eagles starting quarterback Sam Bradford among those that admired Wentz's toughness as well.
"It's probably good to take a couple of those hits to realize you're going to get back up, that it's just like in college, but he did a great job standing in there," Bradford said. "It's not easy to stand in there when you're getting hit like that."
As far as the NFL being just like college, you don't have to tell Wentz. Aside from the speed of the game being a bit faster, he never gets nervous, especially on the football field, where he proved he was comfortable even in his pro debut.
And it showed.
"It was a little different, but it still felt like a football game," Wentz said. "I was still out there playing ball, taking hits. It was all kind of similar, just new offense, new facility, a lot of new things going on, but it's still just a football game and I had fun with it."