What to Make of Wentz, Pt. 1

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 96 Comments »

We know Carson Wentz is the Eagles franchise QB. What we don’t know is exactly what that means. Tom Brady is a franchise QB with handful of Super Bowl rings. Matt Stafford is a franchise QB who has yet to win a playoff game and only has one Pro Bowl to his credit. Wentz could be embarking on a Hall of Fame career or he could be the next Ryan Tannehill.

2017 won’t be a defining season for Wentz. There is no exact timetable for QBs. Some players are special early on and others take time. Packers beat writer Bob McGinn had some interesting comments about Aaron Rodgers recently.

“He was a very poor player here for his first two summers and regular-season practices. Fortunately for him, and he knows that down deep, he didn’t have to play early. His delivery was a mess, bad body language, he didn’t know how to deal with teammates. He learned so much from Brett Favre on how to in some ways be one of the guys and relate, and he became much more of a leader. He was really poor and how many great players have ever had a start like that? Not that many. A lot of scouts look at that exhibition tape those first two years and he was a little bit better the third year, but not to any degree, and then he just really developed. He lost a lot of close games in ’08, but by ’09 he was playing great and by 2010 he was maybe the best in the business. And then there have been a lot of playoff disappointments and poor performances. It’s a quarterback league and all the rules are designed for that quarterback to dominate, and he hasn’t done it in the most important times since 2010.

Think about this for a second. After four years in the NFL, Rodgers had thrown a total of 595 passes. Wentz threw 607 as a rookie. Rodgers developed into a great player. Some of the analysts who pick apart Wentz’s game seem to lose sight of this. Wentz does have issues. Wentz does have flaws. He needs to be given time to work on them. If the Wentz of 2019 is still having questions about his accuracy or mechanics, then you have a serious issue.

For now, Wentz is a young QB, trying to figure things out while also trying to win games for his team.

Doug Farrar of Bleacher Report wrote a very good piece on Wentz. Farrar was fair in his assessment, offering both praise and criticism. Wentz is not a great player. He might turn out to be disappointing. I don’t anticipate that, but we have to acknowledge that it is possible.

Farrar talked to old friend Mike Tanier to get Tanier’s thoughts on what he saw at the Eagles OTAs and minicamp. Crazy idea to actually ask someone who was there what he saw, right? That’s why Farrar is such a good analyst/writer. He doesn’t get caught up in theories. Instead, he watches game tape or finds someone who he trusts who saw the player in action.

I asked Mike Tanier, my B/R NFL colleague, for an assessment of Wentz’s improvements, if any, through the Eagles’ 2017 OTAs and minicamp. Mike has seen Wentz develop since his first minicamp.

“Everything about his quarterbacking is much better now than it was this time last year, when he was still officially a third-stringer,” Mike told me. “His release is more compact, and he holds the ball higher. He has had some drills under duress, so this isn’t just a ‘throwing in shorts against air’ observation.

 “In terms of calling plays, audibles, cadence and the like, it’s night and day. He now handles himself like an established starting QB up until the moment he cocks to throw. As to footwork, it’s hard to see that in live drills from field level. We still see some off-target stuff when he resets. I doubt he is ever going to be super-smooth when it comes to sliding around the pocket.

“Overall, Wentz looks much more solid on a variety of levels now than he looked in OTAs or training camp last year, when he appeared to be simultaneously mastering a rebuilt throwing style and figuring out an NFL playbook. He also looked better in minicamp than in Stage 3 OTAs, which should be expected.

“A few passes from this week really struck me: Wentz switching to a three-quarter arm delivery to deliver a pass into a tight window, and Wentz throwing low on a sideline route intentionally so only his receiver had an opportunity to catch it. There are still some clunkers, but these are the kinds of high-difficulty throws Wentz has to make to take a significant leap forward.”

Wentz is trending in the right direction. We don’t know what his peak is or how long it will take him to get there. Farrar compares Wentz to Ben Roethlisberger, a player I have also used as a point of comparison. Go read the piece to find out Farrar’s thoughts on when we can expect Wentz to hit his peak.

One thing Farrar didn’t mention and I don’t see many people bring up is the fact that Wentz had no foundational piece on offense last year. There was no dominant RB to feed the ball to. There was no great TE to act as a security blanket over the middle. There was nothing close to a #1 WR to throw jump balls to. There was no deep threat to make game-changing plays. The O-line was good when healthy, but injuries and Lane Johnson’s suspension meant protection was an issue for more than half the season.

That will change this year. LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and a deep, talented OL should offer a lot of help for Wentz. That allows Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz to be the complementary players that they are.

All that help won’t help Wentz if he can’t help himself. Effort isn’t enough at QB, but it does help. And it sounds like Wentz is listening to his coaches and doing everything that is asked of him. The coaches are pushing Wentz to get better in a variety of ways. From Jeff McLane.

“You cannot waste plays. Every rep is just so important that you have to just [have] so much focus on every play,” DeFilippo said. “And I’ve really challenged Carson this offseason to what we say, ‘Uncover where all the bones are [buried] in every play.’ “

During his parting meeting with Wentz in January, DeFilippo set offseason goals for the quarterback. Some of them had to do with his throwing mechanics and others had to do with situational decision making.

And

That is why the Eagles continually fine-tune Wentz’s mechanics. Much has been made of Wentz’s 10-day session with quarterback guru Adam Dedeaux in February, but DeFilippo has been working on tightening up his motion from Day 1.

He has had Wentz hold the ball a little higher. He has had him take the ball back as he prepares to throw rather than dropping it. And he has widened the base of his footwork. There’s always room to quicken the release and become more accurate.

“I saw a quarterback that had really taken some things to heart that he and I had talked about,” DeFilippo said.

Unlike some other young QBs in the past who were more concerned about becoming celebrities, dating playmates or partying, Wentz seems genuinely focused on football. As Mike Mayock would say, Wentz is a gym rat. He’s going to be watching tape, studying his playbook, lifting weights or practicing. He’s going to do what it takes to become a good QB.

Matt Mullin wrote a good piece on Wentz and the idea of a Sophomore Slump.

“Sophomore slump” is a phrase people like to throw around without ever taking the time to see if it’s actually a real thing. It’s simply a way to label something that doesn’t otherwise make sense or – and this is the one that really bugs me – to build a false narrative about a certain player.

The majority of times a player is hit with that moniker in his second season, it often fails to account for any number of environmental factors, those out of the QB’s control, that could be affecting his play. Other times, a player has such an impressive rookie season, that an average year suddenly looks like a slump. Careers wax and wane, sometimes that happens sooner rather than later.

But when was the last time you saw a quarterback (or any player at any position in any sport) follow a perfect career arc, where their stats incrementally improve year-over-year until they peak, then slowly decline each year thereafter, until retirement?

It doesn’t happen like that.

Furthermore, when talking about guys like Wentz – for the sake of this story, that means quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round and started at least 12 games in each of their first two seasons – there’s rarely a drop-off of any kind in Year 2.

Go read the whole piece to get some good stats and more details.

It will be great when Training Camp and the preseason get here so we can finally start seeing Wentz in action and find out just where his game is.

*****

I referred to this at Part 1 because we’ll be re-visiting this subject quite a lot in the coming week, months and even years.

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All 53 Matter

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 36 Comments »

The Eagles won a lot of games under Andy Reid because of Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and other star players. Don’t overlook the impact of key role players. Guys like Ike Reese, Brian Mitchell, Joselio Hanson, Paul Grasmanis and Mike Bartrum all did their part to win games. Sometimes that was on offense or defense. A lot of it came on STs.

We spent a lot of time the past few weeks discussing Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Derek Barnett and other key players. The Eagles are going to need all 53 guys on the roster to find a way to contribute. With that in mind, I wrote about some role players on the rise for PE.com.

Being a role player in the NFL is tough. These guys were stars in college and mega-stars in high school. It isn’t easy to adapt to coming off the bench and being expected to do the dirty work. Not all players are wired for that. Talent, effort and production don’t always go hand in hand.

That could easily be the mantra of role players.

Jason Avant wasn’t nearly as talented as DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin, but he caught every pass thrown his way, blocked his butt off and did everything he could to help the team win.

Koy Detmer went from star QB in college to being the best holder in the NFL. Detmer embraced his job and worked at his craft. He helped David Akers become the best kicker in Eagles history. And he never did this.

Always fun to look back at that clip.

The Eagles have some good role players already. They have a few spots where guys need to step up. Who will be the #3 DT? Beau Allen will likely have that role by October, but he’s hurt and won’t be back before mid-September. Destiny Vaeao was the #4 DT last year and could win the job. Rookie Elijah Qualls has the skill set to win the job. Gabe Wright was signed this spring to eat up reps due to injuries at DT. Wright played a lot and might have impressed the coaches enough to actually battle for a roster spot.

There is going to be serious competition to win an O-line roster spot. Chance Warmack was a starter for the Titans, but has to embrace life as a backup in Philly. In his mind, he’s battling for a starting job. Reality says he should focus more on a roster spot. That will be tough enough. Josh Andrews is the last remaining Eagle to have played for Dick Vermeil. Wait, he didn’t? I guess it just seems that way. Andrews has quietly made the roster for several years. He is facing more competition than ever. This summer will be the ultimate test for him. Even a guy like Matt Tobin, who has started at multiple positions, isn’t guaranteed a job.

Byron Marshall showed NFL ability last year. His reward? Seeing the Eagles load up on runners and receivers. Marshall is probably headed back to the practice squad this year, but injuries could open the door for him to get back on the field for a game or two. He needs to be ready if called upon.

The Eagles will keep at least five WRs. That should be Jeffery, Smith, Matthews, Agholor and rookie Mack Hollins. Hollins could be a terrific role player, with his WR talent and STs ability. The Eagles could keep a sixth receiver. Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward, Bryce Treggs and DGB would be battling for that job. DGB had a poor spring and looks headed out. He’ll have to play lights out this summer to win a job.

Gibson was disappointing this spring, but he’s a rookie so the decision on cutting him will be trickier. The Eagles like his long term potential. Do you risk cutting that guy and letting other teams claim him? Treggs did some good things at the recent practices and is at least showing he won’t go down without a fight. That’s what you want to see. If he plays at a high level in August, maybe the Eagles find a way to keep him. Ward is the real long shot here. I mention him because it wouldn’t shock me for Ward to play well and show enough potential that the Eagles decide to keep him. Only 46 players are active on gameday. You can keep one or two developmental guys on your roster. Dillon Gordon got a spot like that last year. Most likely, Ward will be hoping for a practice squad invite.

Finally, there is LB. The top three guys are set. Najee Goode will be the primary backup. After that, things are open. Kamu Grugier-Hill can be a good STer. He needs to show LB talent as well. Rookie Nate Gerry is making the move from S to LB. He showed talent this spring, but Training Camp will be a real test for him. Joe Walker missed his rookie year due to a torn ACL. He could be the backup MLB, but has to show he’s healthy and ready to play. Don Cherry is a limited athlete, but the Eagles like him. Can he push for a roster spot this year?

Lots of questions. The Eagles will start getting some answers in about 6 weeks.

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A Year Ago

Posted: June 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 43 Comments »

There is a lot of optimism with the Eagles right now. Carson Wentz just had his two best practices of the spring. The WRs have played well and look to be an incredibly improved unit. The defense has looked outstanding. Rookies Rasul Douglas and Derek Barnett might challenge for starting roles. And Donnie Jones is still around to carry the team on his back if needed.

Is this bogus hype?

That’s a fair question to ask. All 32 teams are feeling good right now. Players are running around in shorts and everyone looks fast. Teams are healthy and the players are happy. They aren’t worn down by long practices in the middle of summer. This is the time for optimism. Everyone sees the glass as half full right now.

I went back and re-read some posts from last June to offer perspective. Things were not ideal.

  • Carson Wentz, the #3 QB, was up and down. We were mainly excited that he threw deep more often than Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.
  • Nelson Agholor was struggling. Drops were an issue already.
  • Reuben Randle, T.J. Graham and Chris Givens were a mess.
  • There was hope that Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll could be solid starters. Oops.
  • Eric Rowe was really struggling.
  • Josh Huff, like the rest of the receivers, was disappointing.
  • There was a buzz that TE Chris Pantale and LB Quentin Gause would make the roster. Neither did.
  • Taylor Hart was a DT.
  • Myke Tavarres potential existed. Sort of.
  • DGB was underachieving for a different team.

I’m not saying the team was a trainwreck last spring. There were some highlights. But there were also some real issues.

The 2017 Eagles are far from perfect, but do feel significantly improved, in terms of talent and performance. I would say Mike Groh has upgraded the coaching staff as well, but we need some more time before we know that for sure.

I think it is okay to feel good about this team right now.

*****

Jimmy Bama has listed five players who impressed him this spring.

Donnel Pumphrey

Spring practices in helmets and shorts are set up perfectly for players like Pumphrey, who is a small but shifty, elusive player. In spring practices, Pumphrey got more reps than any other back on the roster, and the Eagles moved him all around the formation. It seems pretty clear that they want to get him involved in the offense in a dynamic role.

Additionally, Pumphrey looked comfortable fielding kicks and punts. That’s not something he did much of in college games, since he essentially was San Diego State’s offense, and they didn’t want to risk getting him injured on special teams. However, it is something he worked on in practice every day at SDSU, which is already serving him well at the pro level.

This young man has really grown on me. The Eagles list him as a RB, but he really should be called ATH. Pumphrey is an athletic playmaker. They expect him to be a weapon. At this point, I’m not sure the comparisons to Darren Sproles make sense. Pumphrey is going to move around and do a lot of different things. He won’t get a ton of touches, but he can offer impact.

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So Much Better

Posted: June 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 112 Comments »

The Eagles receiving corps has to be the most improved unit in the league. This group looked good on paper and played that way in the OTAs and minicamp.

Alshon Jeffery played like a #1 receiver. He caught just about everything that came his way. He made contested catches. He made spectacular catches. He even hauled in a deep ball or two. The Eagles gave Jeffery a lot of money and right now that looks like money well-spent. Carson Wentz has a top shelf weapon to go to in the passing game. That could be huge for Wentz’s development.

Torrey Smith hasn’t done anything spectacular, but he’s shown the speed the Eagles lacked last year. Beyond that, Smith is a skilled vertical receiver. He and Wentz are working on the subtleties of how to complete those deep balls. Smith is teaching Wentz what he considers open to be and where to put the ball so he can go make a play on it.

Jordan Matthews, the Eagles best receiver the last couple of years, was hurt and didn’t play. Doug Pederson said he could go if this was the regular season so it sounds like the team is just being careful. Unless his leg falls off, I’m willing to count on Matthews to play well.

Nelson Agholor has embraced the challenge of this offseason. He could have pouted about losing his starting job, but did just the opposite. He has responded really well to the coaching of Mike Groh and is playing the best football of his young career. Admittedly, that bar is set low, but it is still better than seeing him struggle again. Agholor hasn’t been great. Let’s not overdo this. Simply put, he’s making plays, not mistakes. The best thing is that Agholor has played a lot in the slot with Matthews out. He now is showing he can contribute in the slot or outside. That’s important for a player who won’t be the primary receiver. He needs to be able to fit into whatever spot is open for that series or that game.

The Mack Hollins hype train seems to have settled down quite a bit. I don’t know if he did anything or people just got used to seeing him play well. Hollns has shown that he is more than a STer who has some pass-catching talent. He is a talented WR. We’ll see how he does in Training Camp, but he looks like a player that can contribute as a rookie, on offense and STs.

Bryce Treggs played well in the minicamp. I don’t know if the light suddenly went on for him or what, but he started making plays. Treggs has to stand out in order to win a roster spot. He needs to play like he did this week throughout the month of August.

Marcus Johnson has gotten some positive notes. UDFA Greg Ward has had some good moments. He could develop into a slot receiver. Donnel Pumphrey has worked as a slot receiver quite a bit. He isn’t officially a WR, but could be a contributor in the slot role this season. He’s got the potential to be a playmaker.

There are two clear disappointments. DGB and Shelton Gibson have struggled. Unlike Agholor, DGB doesn’t seem to be embracing the increased level of competition. He might be more focused on the idea that he’s going to be out of a job. Last year he made the Eagles roster because of potential. That’s not good enough this year. He has to produce. He can turn things around in Training Camp, but I wouldn’t count on it. Gibson just seems like the overwhelmed rookie. Mental confusion has led to physical problems, mainly dropped passes. He needs to play better in August to have any shot at a roster spot, or more likely, to secure a spot on the practice squad.

I don’t think anyone will mistake this group for the ’99 Rams anytime soon. That’s fine. Just make sure no one mistakes them for the 2016 Eagles.

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JP Sticking Around

Posted: June 15th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 93 Comments »

Jason Peters got an extension from the Eagles on Wednesday.

This is an interesting move by the Eagles. They already had Peters under contract so there was no real need to do this. They gained some cap space this year, but now have to keep Peters around another couple of years.

That’s great if he continues to play well, but there is always the possibility he will hit the wall and start to decline. Peters is a freak, being such a good LT for such a long time, but even he is human. I think. At some point, he will start to struggle against speed rushers. The Eagles can move him in to LG at that point, whether that is 2018 or 2019.

Peters’ extension does mean the Eagles have a boatload of money invested in their OL. That doesn’t bode well for the future of Jason Kelce. He’s got to know the writing is on the wall for him, likely next year, but possible this year.

One person who must be happy is Carson Wentz. He will have a good pair of OTs for the next couple of years. Randall Cunningham would have killed to play behind a LT like Peters.

The most fascinating bit of info was Peters referring to Jeffrey Lurie as his best friend. Les Bowen has more on that.

Peters made a point of thanking Eagles chairman Jeffery Lurie.

“We’re best friends. We talk all the time. He texts me, and we talk before every game. That’s my guy,” Peters said. “He brought me here, and he stayed loyal to me.”

Peters said Lurie is “away in Europe somewhere” but after agent Vincent Taylor initiated talks recently, Lurie “stood up for me and got the deal done.”

At the March NFL meetings in Arizona, Lurie talked of his friendship with Peters, how close they were. On the surface, a 65-year-old billionaire from Boston and a 35-year-old tackle from Texas wouldn’t seem to have all that much in common, but Lurie clearly treasures Peters as one of his franchise’s all-time greats. And Peters has made something like $80 million from Lurie since arriving in a 2009 trade.

What do they talk about?

“Football, life in general, you know,” Peters said.

Just as I predicted when watching tape of Peters playing TE at Arkansas in 2003. “I’ll be someday that kid will consider Jeff Lurie to be his best friend.” I have proof of that somewhere, but you can just take my word for it now. Right?

I love keeping Peters around. The only downside is the cap situation. The Eagles will need to do some shuffling next season to get under the cap. It might not be that hard, but having Peters big salary on the books won’t make things easy.

Still, it is nice to have this guy sticking around.

*****

Peters has a couple of reasons for wanting the deal (besides money, of course).

He has never won a playoff game. His goal is winning the Super Bowl, but at the least he has to want to have some postseason success. Just getting to the playoffs is rewarding on some level, but you want to win. You want to make a run at a title. Peters is optimistic about the Eagles future.

JP also badly wants to make it to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think he’s there right now, but if he can play another three years, and the Eagles do have some postseason success, that will help his resume.

We all like money, but Peters wants more than just that.

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