Brookover: Is Wentz ready? K.C. Keeler thinks so

The speed is what everyone worries about. Even Carson Wentz admitted the most noticeable difference between what he saw during his playing days at North Dakota State and what he faced at the Senior Bowl earlier this year in Mobile, Ala., was the speed of the game.

Wentz will get another taste of the NFL's rapid pace on Friday, when the Eagles open a rookie camp at the NovaCare Complex. One person who saw him play up close believes he will be able to make the adjustment.

"There is a little bit of difference in the speed of the game at our level and the next one," said K.C. Keeler, the Sam Houston State football coach who has spent 13 of the last 14 years coaching in the Football Championship Subdivision. "But when you go to the NFL, all those guys are going to have to deal with playing the game at a different speed. The NFL is unique in that way."

The reason Keeler believes Wentz will be able to make the transition to the NFL is because he sees so many of the same qualities in the Eagles' first-round pick as he did in Joe Flacco when Keeler coached at the University of Delaware.

"I always laugh because everybody talks about Joe getting on the big board with us at Delaware after we beat Navy," Keeler said. "Navy was probably the eighth-best defense we played that year. The [Colonial Athletic Conference] was a beast that year and we played so many great defenses."

North Dakota State did not play Alabama during Wentz's 11/2 seasons as the Bison's starting quarterback, but when your school wins five straight FCS championships, it means you are consistently seeing the best of the best at your level, which Keeler believes is on par with the FBS programs outside of the Power 5 conferences.

"The top programs in FCS are every bit as good as those midlevel Division I programs," Keeler said. "We are no different than Miami of Ohio and schools like that."

That was an interesting choice of schools because Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger went from Miami of Ohio to being a two-time Super Bowl winner. Flacco, of course, won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore.

Keeler's best argument for Wentz is what he saw in person. He was feeling pretty good about his Sam Houston State football team two years ago after three straight FCS playoff wins, including one over Villanova. And then his Bearkats ran into North Dakota State and Wentz.

"You're thinking, 'Thank God their quarterback finally graduated,' and then this kid shows up," Keeler said.

Wentz did not have a spectacular game, but his team crushed Sam Houston State, 35-3, on the way to a fourth straight FCS title.

"When I looked at Wentz in person, I was surprised how big he was and I was really surprised how physical he was," Keeler said. "It was a lot like what I saw in Joe. They are both freak athletes. That's why Joe was able to go to the NFL and play right away. And with Wentz, I walked away from that game saying, 'I just saw a really special player' who was going to play at the next level."

Confirmation of Wentz's special ability came for Keeler in 2015, even though his team did not play North Dakota State. Sam Houston State made it back to the FCS semifinals but was trounced by Jacksonville State, 62-10.

"We had beaten them the year before and their kids were physically crying as they left the field," Keeler said. "It was like they had won the national championship."

Except they still had to play the four-time defending national champions and Wentz was returning after an eight-week absence forced by a fractured wrist.

"I was shocked by what happened," Keeler said.

North Dakota State beat Jacksonville State, 37-10. Wentz ran nine times for 79 yards and two touchdowns and completed 16 of 29 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown. He also threw two interceptions.

It has been argued that Wentz benefited from playing in a great program, and even he would not dispute that. His replacement - Easton Stick - led the Bison to an 8-0 record last season, and his predecessor - Brock Jensen - went 47-5 and led North Dakota State to its first three of five straight national titles.

"I can see the naysayers talking about that, but I think playing in that program is going to be a big benefit for him," Keeler said. "He played in a real disciplined system and you could see that he became the leader of that team. You don't grow up in North Dakota being soft and I think he's a real tough guy."

Carson Wentz is going to have to be a tough guy because few things in sports are more difficult than being the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob