Carson Wentz was stretched out in a New Jersey cornfield Saturday morning hunting geese when he received a call from Doug Pederson. The Eagles coach informed the first-round pick what he told the public during a Monday news conference: Wentz is the Eagles’ new starting quarterback beginning with Sunday’s season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
The decision comes after the shocking trade of Sam Bradford to Minnesota one week before the season and after Wentz missed most of the preseason with a hairline fracture in his ribs. But Wentz has been cleared to return — the full clearance came Monday — and Pederson wasted no time turning over the franchise to the player anointed for the role in April.
“The whole time all along, I was just getting ready for whenever this time would come,” Wentz said. “I knew I was ready. I knew I was taking the mental reps, being out the last couple of weeks, even going out to the first preseason game. I was developing at a fast pace and now it’s here. I’m confident in myself, I’m confident in this team. I’m excited for it.”
Wentz attempted only 24 passes, completing 12, in the preseason and missed three games and two weeks of practice because of injury. The team had prepared for him to sit this season and develop, but Pederson said the trade offer from the Vikings accelerated the timetable.
Pederson said Wentz was drafted “to take the reins.” The coach remembered rookie minicamp in May when Wentz had the “wow factor” by making throws from unconventional positions, and the way Wentz handled different elements of the offense such as run-pass options and zone reads. The optimism continued throughout training camp to the point that Pederson was comfortable trading Bradford one week before the season.
“This is why we drafted him,” Pederson said. “Would the ideal situation be later than sooner? Sure. But right now where we are, we’ve got a good football team around him, got a great defense, special teams, offensive line, good runners. All the pieces are here for him to be successful and for us to win some games.”
Wentz said he must spend the week in the film room, and he imagined the Browns would be creative in trying to flummox a young quarterback.
He also needs to get familiar with the starting offense. He has not taken any first-team snaps this summer; his work has mostly come with the third-team offense. So his receivers and offensive line are different faces, and many of them are veterans. Wentz did not sound as if he felt he needed to prove anything to those teammates to engender confidence, and a popular refrain from many teammates Monday was support for Wentz. Pederson spoke with Wentz’s teammates to take their temperature.
“I feel like I’ve earned respect with how I go about my business, how I carry myself,” said Wentz, 23. “There’s nothing different I need to do now. It’s still football. Still be the same guy.”
Wentz seemed undaunted by any additional pressure that might come his way. He’ll be the first rookie quarterback to start an opener for the Eagles since at least 1950, and the fans will be energized about the player the Eagles acquired with the second overall pick in a blockbuster pre-draft trade — from the Browns, no less.
He understands that young quarterbacks often fall victim to “bumps in the road,” but Wentz said he will “take them in stride” and learn from whatever mistakes arise.
Wentz reached out to Bradford this past weekend and expressed his appreciation for the veteran, who Wentz said had been a mentor. He had a businesslike conversation with Chase Daniel, who will remain the backup, and they discussed the week ahead without any awkwardness about Wentz’s leaping Daniel on the depth chart. Pederson said that he planned for Daniel to be the backup and that Daniel understands the decision.
“Any competitor would be a little disappointed,” Daniel said. “But believe me, it’s not going to get in the way of my preparation. It’s not going to hinder me in any way moving forward. Carson’s ready for this, and it’s about him right now. We’re going to move forward like that.”
Pederson assured Wentz that the rookie does not need to worry about the team aborting this plan. There is a full commitment to the former North Dakota State star, and Pederson said the stage is not too big for Wentz.
This is not what the Eagles expected one week ago, or even what Wentz expected Saturday morning when he went hunting. He got only one goose — not a morning of good hunting, but a good morning for the Eagles’ future. That future starts Sunday, and Wentz believes he’s ready.
“I just knew ever since OTAs this summer,” Wentz said. “That preseason game I walked away feeling extra confident with it. It wasn’t pretty by any means, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed or anything. I just felt very confident with it, and now it’s here.”