Eagles Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks
PHILADELPHIA - With the best Plan B in football now comfortably nestled on the First Coast of Florida and nearly $108 million invested into Carson Wentz, it's now fair to say the Eagles' eggs are all in one basket when it comes to the most important position in football.
In other words, they're just like everybody else.
Philadelphia kicked the can down the road as long as it could when it came to Super Bowl LII hero Nick Foles and the safety net under the oft-injured but uber-talented Wentz has now been removed.
Any hand-wringing this spring over the back injury that derailed Wentz last season proved to be just that. The franchise quarterback, who signed his big-money extension in June, was a full-go during offseason work, taking every rep with the first team during both OTAs and minicamp.
“I feel great," the now fourth-year signal caller said. "As you guys saw, there’s no limitations out there. I’m out there doing team drills, doing all that stuff, which seemed like it was awhile [ago] for me. I feel really good going forward."
Perhaps more importantly, Wentz actually ditched the brace on his left knee, an unwanted extra piece of equipment dating back to his torn ACL and LCL from December of 2017.
“Ultimately, it was my decision,” Wentz said of nixing the brace. “But, talking through it with everybody, we just felt it was best going forward. Knee felt good, feels strong, and I feel better without it.”
Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor noticed the difference.
“Shedding the knee brace ... I think that was kind of an annoyance throughout the year that he had to wear it," Taylor surmised. "... He’s got that bounce back.”
As for the stress fracture in his back that cut short his 2018 campaign, Wentz and coach Doug Pederson were a little murkier, although if there is any concern it hasn't manifested itself. Wentz is mindful of the fact he hasn't finished the past two seasons, however, and has gone about “transforming” his body with a newfound dedication to his fitness level.
"Just trying to transform my body a little bit this offseason," he said. "I've seen a lot of development there for me personally. I think that will help going forward with just staying healthy and longevity. Just looking at nutrition and different training techniques and really diving into any training aspect, any advantage I can find.
"I went into this offseason with just [two goals] -- getting healthy and what it can look like to stay healthy."
Flexibility and durability are the goals for Wentz not necessarily adding strength, something he intimated is a branch off Tom Brady and his "TB12" method. For what it's worth, Wentz certainly looks slimmer to the naked eye.
"Obviously, a guy like Tom (Brady) and you see other athletes, they have their method," Wentz explained. "They find what works for them and nutrition, diet and sleep are a big part of it. That’s something I’ve really been looking at this offseason.”
While spring workouts are never paramount to proven veterans they were a little more important for Wentz, who was a limited participant leading up to the 2018 season as he rehabbed his knee, a process which distanced himself from his teammates at times.
“I’ve learned a lot through these processes to not be my own worst enemy, listen to advice throughout the way,” Wentz said. “I feel good with where I’m at.”
And where he's at is on the field leading an offense that which added a host of playmakers including receivers DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as well as running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.
“I love any time we can get on the field,” Wentz said. “Start building that chemistry, start talking through things with guys so they see it how I see it, and vice versa. Anytime we can get out there, I love it. Missing some of that time last year was a bummer. I wouldn’t say it’s the ‘end all, be all,’ but it definitely is helpful – especially this year, with a couple new faces in there. I think you’ll see dividends come the fall.”
His contract -- a team-record extension for the Eagles that guaranteed the face of the franchise $66 million when he put pen to paper and $107.9 in total guarantees, an NFL record -- only increases the expectations.
"[The Eagles] saw something special in me and at the same time in saw something special in this place," Wentz said. "I could see the chemistry, I could see the culture, the makeup from the moment I came here on my visit before the draft. I knew there was something different here, I knew there was something special and we were able to accomplish something special a couple years ago.
"It's been quite the ride for these couple years but I'm really excited about what the future brings."
STEP UP FOR SUDFELD
With Foles now in Jacksonville, the 6-foot-6 Nate Sudfeld steps up a spot and Philadelphia remains confident that he will ultimately be an excellent backup to Wentz.
"Nate works hard and he’s got a lot of skill,” Taylor said. “I’m impressed with how far he has come in a short period of time."
The Eagles have continuously expressed confidence in Sudfeld taking the next step in his career and becoming a competent backup. The caveat to that was that Philadelphia didn't want to hand a job to anyone and to that end the team brought in veteran Cody Kessler.
"We're happy with Nate (Sudfeld), and we are excited for him," Pederson said. "This is a big opportunity for Nate coming up. ... An opportunity to really show us again what he's capable of doing and can he handle the number two spot. I've always been, this has always been my career, you always want guys to compete for spots and not hand anything out."
COMPETITION IS KEY
A Southern Cal product, Kessler, 26, has played in 16 games and started 12 in stints with Cleveland and Jacksonville since being drafted in 2016 by the Browns, ironically with part of the haul Cleveland received when the Eagles traded up for Wentz.
The efficacy hasn't necessarily been there as Kessler won just two of his 12 starts but they were generally with bad teams and his numbers, a completion percentage of 64 percent with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
During the spring Kessler didn't push Sudfeld all that much and did not show NFL-level arm strength.
THE DEVELOPMENTAL ROOKIE
The final QB on the roster is rookie fifth-round pick Clayton Thorson, who has the inside track on the third spot as the developmental quarterback. A 53-game starter at Northwestern, Thorson struggled with his decision-making during the spring and lacked accuracy at times in college but the Eagles like his makeup and competitiveness.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Thorson was extremely successful at Northwestern, not exactly a common theme for the Wildcats before his arrival in the always tough Big Ten. His 53 starts were a conference record and produced a 36-17 record against competition that included heavyweights like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa.
“The wins are most important,” Thorson said of his college years. "I think just knowing that we won 36 games and it probably should have been more like 44. Just knowing that there was more on the table, too, is something good."
The scheme was important also because the Wildcats played more of a pro-style offense.
“I think thankfully the scheme we had at Northwestern allows me to have not as steep of a learning curve," he said. "But there is a lot of differences as well. Obviously, there’s some technique in that but the mental side of it is just different things are going different ways, that’s different than college.”
The bigger sea change for Thorson may be going from being the guy to just another guy as he learns the position at the professional level.
“Knowing that I don’t know everything and those guys [Wentz and Sudfeld] know pretty much it all," Thorson said when asked about how he would handle taking a step back “Just learning from those guys, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
QB1 Carson Wentz - A superstar-level player. Year 2 off ACL/LCL surgery and a new dedication toward conditioning and nutrition have many around the league expecting big things.
QB2 Nate Sudfeld - The NFL's best safety net is now the starter in Jacksonville and that means it's Sudfeld's turn to take the step forward. He was clearly better than the "competition" this spring but had some issues holding onto the football far too long. The jury remains out on Sudfeld being a capable backup.
ON THE BUBBLE:
QB3 Clayton Thorson - The rookie fifth-round pick is a developmental project who struggled with accuracy and decision-making during the spring.
QB4 Cody Kessler - Brought in as the veteran competition for Sudfeld, Kessler lacked the functional arm strength to make a roster push in the spring. If he was injured or struggling with a dead arm, perhaps he can make a better showing during the summer.
POSITION GRADE: 7.5 [largely for Wentz, the depth is now lacking.]