With season over, time for Carson Wentz to hunt and reflect

With season over, time for Carson Wentz to hunt and reflect

A year ago at this time, Carson Wentz was living in Fargo patiently waiting to be cleared from a wrist injury so he could lead the North Dakota State Bison into the FCS Championship game. 

A lot has changed since then. 

Wentz returned in time to win his second championship before he quickly became the hottest draft prospect in the country. He wowed the Eagles at the Senior Bowl and again at the Combine, enough for them to trade up to the No. 2 pick to get him. 

And then his expected redshirt year was canceled about a week before the season began, when Sam Bradford was traded to the Vikings. Wentz started all 16 games for the Eagles this season and hasn’t figuratively been able to breathe in quite some time. 

As of Monday at around 1:15 p.m., when he met with assembled Philly reporters at the NovaCare Complex, that was about to change. The offseason had arrived. 

“A year ago at this time, my life was crazy different,” Wentz said. “How many things have changed and what all just transpired this season. Definitely need to take some time to reflect and just sit back and look at all the crazy things that have happened in my life.”

The next few weeks for 24-year-old will include reflecting, relaxing and hunting, “obviously.” What the upcoming weeks won’t include for the no-longer-rookie quarterback is throwing a football. 

On Monday, Wentz said he’s going to have to “fight the urge to touch a football” for at least three or four weeks. 

“It’s been a long haul from my college season through the pre-draft process to this whole offseason,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, learned a lot. But it’s definitely been physical and mentally taxing. I’m not sure of an exact timetable for workouts and everything, but I am also excited to get back to work so I might have to be fighting that urge a little bit.”

One of the things that probably took some getting used to was the amount of attention he’s received since arriving to Philadelphia. He’s been heralded as the savior of the organization, which is daunting talk. Wentz said he understands the role he has with the team and in the city – “I get it. I’m very aware,” he said – but tries not to think about it. He doesn’t want the pressure to ever become overwhelming. 

Not only did Wentz start all 16 games for the Eagles, but he also played 1,127 of 1,133 possible snaps, missing just six in the Giants' game while he got checked out for a concussion. 

He finished the season completing 379 of 607 passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 

His 379 completions were good for a new Eagles and NFL rookie record. His 607 attempts are the most in Eagles history and the second-most for an NFL rookie ever. And his 3,782 yards is the fourth-highest total in team history, surpassing Bradford’s season from a year ago. 

So how did Wentz think he played this season? 

“I thought it was OK,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t where it needs to be, for sure. We were ultimately 7-9. That’s what it all boils down to. I thought I learned a lot. I thought I grew as far as mentally and physically on the field. Definitely nowhere near where I want to be and where I think we can be as a team. But I thought we did some good things too.”

When asked what specific mechanical things he needs to work on for his second NFL season, Wentz said there isn’t one glaring thing. It’s more about being consistent. He said it’s a possibility he could work with an outside  “quarterback guru” this offseason. 

But he wasn’t interested in thinking about mechanics Monday.

“For starters, I don’t want to think about that right now,” he said. “Once I start thinking about that, then I’m really going to have to fight the urge to pick up the ball.”

For now, Wentz will be relegated to relaxing – as hard as it might be – while the bad taste from a personally unusual losing season lingers in his mouth. 

“Yeah, we won last night and that was cool, but it was weird last night and this morning coming in,” Wentz said. “We’re not going to be back. That same team, that same locker room will never be the same. It’s kind of a crappy feeling. We’re going to use that now. I know I’m going to personally use that. I know I never want to have that feeling. I want to be playing into January for the rest of my career, God willing, and we’re going to see what happens.”

Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

As we’ve learned over the last four seasons, Jim Schwartz’s entire defense is predicated on getting pass rush from the front four. 

That won’t change in 2020.

Where that pass rush specifically comes from, however, might. 

Because after a year when the Eagles interior defensive line was completely demolished by injuries, the Eagles now boast an impressive group of defensive tackles that might just be the best in the entire league. 

It’s no secret: Those defensive tackles will need to be the engine that powers the defense in 2020. 

With us three healthy, and it being a really good rotation, that it should be really good for this team,” Fletcher Cox said on Wednesday. “… The defensive line, we have to be the group that leads this team. I’m really looking forward to it.

In 2019, the Eagles were forced to sign guys off the street to play next to their perennial Pro Bowler, Cox. But even Cox wasn’t his usual self last year after coming back from offseason toe surgery. 

In 2020? 

Cox is fully healthy and having a full offseason to prepare. Malik Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway both return from injuries that ended their 2019 seasons early. And the Eagles went out and signed Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million contact. This defensive line is legitimately four deep with guys who are starter caliber. 

“I think it’s a really good group,” Cox said. “It’ll be a solid group along with all the other guys that’s in the room that I played with last year. It’s a really solid group and I’m really looking forward to getting back to football with those guys, with Malik and [Javon] coming in. It’ll be a really good rotation, whatever we decide to do. I’m just excited for those guys.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains. Because obviously Cox is still the centerpiece of the defensive line and, really, the entire defense. But he hasn’t played much — or at all — with the three guys who will be playing next to him. 

Take a look: 

Cox and Hargrave: Have never played together 

Cox and Jackson: Have half a game together 

Cox and Ridgeway: Started five games together 

And with Jackson, that half of football came after a training camp where Cox was limited coming off injury. So Cox has the most experience with the defensive tackle who is expected to play the least. Hargrave is expected to be a starter and Jackson will be a rotational player who might play a lot of snaps at defensive end too. 

It’s going to take time for these guys to learn to play with one another. And this offseason is obviously an unusual one thanks to COVID-19. There were no OTAs and there’s an abbreviated training camp with no preseason games. 

“When Timmy (Jernigan) was here, it took a while for us to get on the same page,” Cox said. “You just don’t learn those things over night. I didn’t have a training camp with Malik. We only had like half of a game under our belt. We never really got into that same groove. It’s going to take some time. 

“I think the main thing for [Hargrave] is going out, playing fast, learning the defense, which he’s doing a really good job at, catching onto things that we do. The realest thing is just going out and getting the repetitions with him. It think it’s going to take a lot of repetition for him and me to get on the same page, a lot of communication. So far, so good.”

On paper, this is the best group of defensive tackles ever assembled with Cox. And Hargrave ought to be the best complement next to him we’ve ever seen, surpassing the likes of Jernigan and Bennie Logan. But we’ve got to see it first. 

The Eagles better hope these guys figure out how to play next to each other pretty quickly. The 2020 defense is relying on them. 

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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