Asked about the most difficult aspect of his transition from North Dakota State to the NFL, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz had to think about it for a second.
“Nothing’s really been overwhelming,” said Wentz, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. “The speed of the game — that’s a big adjustment for me.
“For some guys, learning a new system and the pro-style things can be a lot. But we did a lot of the same stuff [at North Dakota State]. I was calling protections and making run checks and making audibles, playing under center — so that stuff came pretty natural for me. So really just adjusting to the speed of the game and I thought I [adjusted to] that pretty quickly.”
So far, Wentz is making it look that easy. After having played just two quarters in the preseason — with the third- and fourth-teamers — because of a rib injury and jumping from third-team quarterback to the starter at the beginning of Week 1, Wentz cooly guided the Eagles to a 29-10 victory over the Browns on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Wentz was 22-of-37 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 101.0 passer rating. He broke open a close game in the third quarter by completing a five-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz on fourth-and-four form the Browns 40, then hitting wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 35-yard touchdown and a 22-10 lead. Wentz was 8-for-8 passing against the blitz.
“He’s pretty damn impressive,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “It looks now that Philadelphia is going to be very well-rewarded for the risk they took on draft day, giving up a lot of stuff to get this guy, because he looks like he’s going to be a long-term, heluva quarterback. And then they got Christmas given to them when the Vikings had their misfortune [losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a knee injury] and they were able to [trade Bradford].
“He has a big arm, can move. He’s athletic and mobile. He’s very poised. Doesn’t get flustered. He’s very comfortable running their offense even though he only played a little bit in the preseason. Obviously the work their coaching staff has done with him, through the OTAs and training camp was time very well spent. He learns well.”
The 23-year-old Wentz knows it’s not likely to be that easy every week. His second game against the Bears — a road game on Monday Night Football — figures to be a step up in degree-of-difficulty.
“It’s football. Not everything goes perfect,” said Wentz, who grew up in Bismarck, N.D. “There’s going to be losses, bad plays, mistakes. It’s all part of it, so I’m not naive to think it’s going to be smooth sailing for this team. But we’ve got a resilient group of guys and we’re going to keep getting better every week.”
The Eagles traded five draft picks to the Browns — including their No. 1 pick in 2016 and 2017 and second-round pick in 2018 — to move up from No. 8 to No. 2 in the draft to select Wentz.
At 6-5, 237, Wentz has prototypical size for a modern-day quarterback. And although North Dakota State won three national titles before Wentz became the starter — and went 8-0 las season when Wentz was on the sidelines with an injury — the Eagles feel he has something special that makes him a winner.
“He won a lot of games, from high school to college,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “And anytime you’re playing football and you can win that [many] games, there’s something to his leadership ability and something to making plays and being an important part of that team.
“He’s a very mature individual. Nothing’s too big for him and we just felt very comfortable once we made the trade with Sam to Minnesota to go ahead and start him.”
Bears rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall knows first-hand what he’s up against. He faced Wentz twice at Northern Iowa, including last season, when Wentz led a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:30 — converting on fourth-and-eight and fourth-and-three — to win 31-28 on a touchdown pass with 35 seconds left.
“He took over the game, two-minute drill,” Hall said. “He just made throws he needed to make. He’s a good guy on and off the field. He reads defenses really well and has a cannon for an arm. He can run the ball as well. You pressure him, he’s able to run. If not, he can make the throw.”
The Monday night game against the Bears will be a challenge, but Wentz seems like the type that can handle it.
“We expect it to be a loud and really exciting atmosphere,” Wentz said. “Obviously we’ve got to prepare for silent counts and things like that. We have to be clear with our communication. I don’t think it’s going to be anything really overwhelming, but we’re expecting it to be a loud environment. We’re excited for it.”