Donnellon: Wentz wind beneath Eagles' wings

THE BALL dropped over the defender and into the hands of Darren Sproles, a pass made in stride to a running back in full stride. Carson Wentz threw it not running forward as much as he threw it running laterally, adding a few more degrees of difficulty to the 15-yard flick that turned into a 73-yard touchdown pass after Sproles Bugs-Bunnied his way through a Pittsburgh secondary performing as if extras in a movie.

We have seen many great quarterbacks improvise like this of course, guys with Super Bowl rings and Hall of Fame busts, the guy across the field on Sunday, Ben Roethlisperger, among them. Hard to recall which, if any, could have delivered it this way, though, an exercise that smacked not just of athleticism, but an intrinsic feel for physics as well.

"He can make those kind of throws," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich was saying in the Eagles locker room following Sunday's 34-3 Eagles' victory over the Steelers. "That's just the kind of dynamic athlete that he is. We've seen that all the way back to OTAs. He's made some eye-catching throws on the run during practice over the last six months. And the more you can get him on the move, the more things like that are going to happen."

Wentz had his best game as a professional yet against a team touted as Super-Bowl worthy. He threw for 301 yards, completing 23 of 31 passing attempts to seven different pass catchers. Three games in, he has still not thrown an interception, hasn't fumbled it away. He even limited the hits he took Sunday.

Once again, it's an oversimplification to credit all of this to Wentz. The head coach's game-planning had Pittsburgh's defense off-balance all game long. The defense, its talent improved incrementally from last season's maligned crew, is a living, breathing - and pounding - résumé of Jim Schwartz's coaching acumen as well.

But make no mistake: None of it matters if Howie Roseman didn't show a lot of faith - along with a lot of something else - in trading up to draft Wentz, and trading his starting quarterback just eight days before the start of this season so Wentz could even dress for these games. And none of it matters if Wentz doesn't perform like the organizational messiah he has over his first three professional games.

Poll

How far can the Eagles go this season?

Pick what you find most impressive about the kid.

Accuracy? Poise? Leadership?

Speed, smarts, preparation, humility?

Pick any box on the list and Wentz seems to have it checked: When Dorial Green-Beckham dropped the first pass thrown to him late in the first quarter, Wentz came right back to him for a tough 19-yard catch in traffic on the very next play. Trey Burton dropped a bunny and the next play he too was targeted. Wentz follows long runs upfield almost too closely. After each of the two field goals Caleb Sturgis kicked, he walked onto the field to congratulate every member of that team.

He does the same thing with kickoffs and coverages. And yet none of it comes across as contrived. "Yeah, you can go back and watch college tape," said Wentz. "That was always me. I was always having fun and giving guys some props when they deserve it.

"You have to bring that energy," said Wentz. "You have to get the guys going, get them to rally around you. That's something I really pride myself on - trying to elevate the play of everyone else around you."

Three games in, it has worked. Even among the more been-there-done-that veterans on the team. Wentz never saw Sproles score that touchdown, he said, because veteran center Jason Kelce was "in my face celebrating."

"Being 10 years in - this kid is inspiring me," tight end Brent Celek said. "I mean, he's adding youth to my game, just by the way he's acting. Being in the huddle. Taking command. It's beyond impressive. I'm not going to sit here and say we're the greatest team. But I'm excited with how he's playing and I think he's elevating everybody else's play by the way he's handling it."

Here's an example: On the second play of their first series Sunday, Celek caught a button pass and was immediately grabbed by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Always a maximum effort guy, Celek dragged Shazier a few feet before shaking him, rumbled towards the sideline, and picked up an additional 12 yards.

"I'm trying to inspire this team as well," said the tight end. "Anytime I get an opportunity, I'm trying to lift the guys on the sidelines as well.

"Emotion plays a big part in this game. That can't be underrated. It's a lot . . . "

Three games into a season that began amid low expectations, emotions are now running quite high. Among fans, for sure. From a head coach who expresses no surprise about his rookie's start, and insists we still haven't seen the best version yet.

Above all, among teammates who expected to be playing alongside a veteran quarterback with eight days to go before the season - and now find themselves playing alongside one who, just three games in, tests the limits of their hyperbole.

"The kid's just got it," Celek said, finally.

"He's got the juice."


donnels@phillynews.com

@samdonnellon

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