Wentz shows Eagles durability by starting every game this season

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Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.

Carson Wentz will start his 16th game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, making him the first Eagles quarterback to last the entire season since Donovan McNabb in 2008. It comes one year after Wentz missed eight games in his senior season at North Dakota State with a broken wrist and after missing three preseason games with fractured ribs.

"I'll tell you, I'm very fortunate," Wentz said Wednesday. "I think, first of all, it goes to the guys up front doing a great job protecting me. But ultimately, I'm very fortunate. This is a fluky game. Things happen. I've just got to thank the Lord for that, for sure."

Only 17 quarterbacks have started every game this season. Two of them - Oakland's Derek Carr and Tennessee's Marcus Mariota - suffered injuries in Week 16 that will sideline them on Sunday. Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor is getting benched this weekend, making it only 14 quarterbacks who finished the marathon from Week 1 to Week 17.

"There's fluky things that happen," Wentz said. "Those injuries those guys suffer, real unfortunate. It's tough, but it's football. Those things happen. I dealt with some of those in college."

Wentz and Dallas' Dak Prescott are the only rookies to start every game. All four NFC East quarterbacks lasted the season. Only four of the 17 quarterbacks who have started 15 games to date lead teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs.

Backup Chase Daniel has taken just six snaps for the Eagles. In previous seasons, backup quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Vince Young, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have all needed to replace starters.

Wentz has not even been on the Eagles' official injury report this season. He had a calf spasm in October that did not cause him to miss any practice time. He briefly left last Thursday's win over the New York Giants for a concussion evaluation, but he was cleared to return.

Wentz missed time in high school and college with injuries, and the rib injury during his first NFL preseason did not quiet concern about whether injuries would be a problem in the NFL.

"I think that was another test," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "There were questions about [whether] he [would] be durable: 'Could he do that? Could he start 16 games just because of the injuries he's had?' I think he's done a great job of knowing how to get down. It was a learning process."

Reich said Wentz was "a little bit too aggressive" when the quarterback ran earlier this season. The coaching staff emphasized the need to slide or get out of bounds, and Reich said Wentz now has a "good sense" for when to slide or get down, even calling him a "seasoned pro out there."

"There are no guarantees about staying healthy in this league, but we're certainly glad he's done a good job with that this year and stayed healthy," Reich said.

Wentz has taken 1,051 snaps this season. He has attempted 564 passes and been sacked 31 times. Only Drew Brees and Jameis Winston have been on the field more than Wentz at quarterback this season. Thirteen quarterbacks have been sacked more than Wentz, 10 quarterbacks have run more than Wentz, and six quarterbacks have passed more than Wentz.

Reich said Wentz's durability is a testament to Wentz's toughness, preparation and offensive line. The coaching staff wanted Wentz to reach the point where he was disciplined with his route progressions and not immediately relying on athleticism when pressure is coming. They wanted the impetus of Wentz's runs to be instinct, not pressure.

"I think it says a lot about [the fact] that he has a good internal clock," Reich said. "He's not just a big, strong, athletic guy who is going to get back there and make plays with his legs all the time. He knows to be great in this league and to be great and take us where we want to go, you've got to learn how to play quarterback from the pocket and then let your natural athletic ability take over when something breaks down."

Coach Doug Pederson said he never thought durability would be a problem for Wentz. He said he knew that the Eagles would need to work on Wentz's sliding and teach him when to protect himself. But Pederson said he expected it to be fixed. What most impressed the coach with Wentz's durability, he said, was how it came in a year that's been a whirlwind for Wentz.

After winning the Football Championship Subdivision national title last January, Wentz went right into preparing for the Senior Bowl. Then came the combine workouts and the pre-NFL draft hoopla. After he was drafted, he needed to learn the Eagles' playbook through minicamp and training camp. There was time off during the summer, but he didn't have the extended offseason that most players enjoy. It will start next week after a season of starting 16 games.

"He really hasn't had a break, and for him to be playing what we feel - really he's playing his best football right now at the end of the year - just goes to show the type of player he is, the type of professional that he is, and how he's learning each week and how he's attacking each week, and by the way he studies and prepares and takes care of his body," Pederson said. "And then a lot of the credit, too, obviously falls on the offensive line for protecting him this season. It's just been something that we can definitely build on for the future."

zberman@phillynews.com

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