Ford: Eagles' Carson Wentz begins his year of truth

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Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.

Carson Wentz is set to begin workouts this month with private quarterback instructor Adam Dedeaux in Los Angeles. Dedeaux, who now runs the business started by Tom House, another former baseball pitcher, is considered a guru in the science of coaching quarterbacks at the NFL level, and his past client list includes guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. If you are an NFL quarterback looking to improve, this is the offseason place to go.

The program gets a little wonky at times, with a lot of talk about biomechanics and kinetic sequencing, but the guts of it is about delivering the football with a combination of good footwork and a sound throwing motion. It should be particularly useful to Wentz, who finished his rookie season possessing neither.

This wasn't entirely Wentz's fault, or necessarily indicative of holes in his game that can't be repaired, but the Eagles are anxious to see those problems resolved. That is because they have essentially bet the long-term future of the franchise on the proposition that Wentz is going to be not just good but a great quarterback. The stakes are as high as a loopy throw made hurriedly off the back foot.

As the team prepares for the free-agent signing season that begins in three weeks and beyond that for the NFL draft, it will be interesting to see which side of the ball gets more attention. Strapped for salary cap space, the Eagles won't be able to fill all their needs with quality players, and despite Howie Roseman's disdain for "Band-Aid" solutions, there will have to be some temporary fixes.

So, who gets the steak, and who gets the hamburger?

Even though the team has pressing defensive needs at cornerback, linebacker and end, you should expect the Eagles to concentrate their resources on improving the offense by shoring up the line and upgrading the skill positions. The reason is the same reason that Wentz is out in California: If the quarterback doesn't become great, nothing else matters. Nothing. He will get every chance to succeed, whether due to private instruction, better players around him or the team's own coaching staff. It is such serious business that the Eagles did not allow quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to interview for the Jets' offensive coordinator opening.

Now, it might be worth wondering why all that is necessary if the team is convinced that Wentz is the real deal. If he truly can't miss - and that is certainly the message from within the NovaCare Complex since last April - then he will prevail no matter what. Right, but that's the problem with sure things. They don't really exist. Just ask the Sixers, who stunk their way through an 18-64 season to draft Jahlil Okafor, a once-in-a-generation low-post center, and now apparently can't trade him for a bag of beans.

The Eagles are building around Wentz. That is the plan, and there is no turning back. It makes the most sense to build around him directly, and right away, because things that are forgivable and understandable during a rookie season quickly become defined as faults after that.

They won't come out and say it. They shouldn't come out and say it. But the Eagles' front office and football staff aren't sure which way this will go yet. By the end of Wentz's second season in the league, they will have a much better idea. So, give the kid every advantage.

Four games into his career, it didn't look like Wentz would ever need any help. He threw his first 134 passes without an interception (before the desperation heave against the Lions at the end of the fourth game) and his quarterback rating of 103.5 was fifth in the league. He had completed 67.4 percent of his passes and thrown seven touchdowns to go with that one interception.

He did all that despite missing time with a rib injury in the exhibition season and despite not getting the first-team reps until a week before the opener. It was remarkable. And then they played the rest of the season.

The numbers are the numbers. By the end of the year, Wentz's rating was 79.3, putting him 25th out of the 30 eligible quarterbacks. His yards per attempt was 29th. His touchdown percentage was 30th. In the last 12 games, he threw nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and his footwork and mechanics worsened as the physical and mental load increased.

Again, not all of that was on Wentz. His receivers couldn't get open. The line wasn't as dependable after Lane Johnson was suspended. The running game didn't offer much relief. And head coach Doug Pederson somehow thought it was a good idea to have Wentz set a team record for pass attempts in a season. Not just a rookie record. A franchise record.

The low point was a three-interception day against the Bengals after which Pederson criticized Wentz's mechanics. The quarterback disagreed. "You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some," he said. He did, in fact, attempt 60 passes in the game and, taking into account three scrambles and a sack, could have broken the team record of 62 attempts. That was madness, and it didn't help Wentz, whose 607 passing attempts were only five fewer than his total attempts in four years of college.

Still, asterisks or not, the numbers are the numbers, and for the final three-quarters of the schedule they weren't very good. The coming season will be dedicated to finding out which quarterback he is. Nothing less than the whole enterprise rests on the answer. So, the kid will be properly prepped for the test, constantly tutored and will get the brightest classmates the team can find to place around him. If that doesn't work, you can ring the bell. School will be out.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


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