Because his public image is that of an amiable, salt of the earth, Midwestern boy, Carson Wentz could be mistaken for being the passive sort.
While his good-naturedness and unpretentiousness are authentic, Wentz is no docile flower, particularly when it comes to football. The second-year quarterback knows what he wants and he isn’t afraid to articulate it — either when Eagles coaches are installing their offense or when Wentz stands at the line of scrimmage with a play that he recognizes won’t succeed.
“Assertiveness isn’t his issue at all,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “He’s got plenty of assertiveness. You can tell it, even just more in this year, he’s not hesitating.”
When the Eagles first started scouting Wentz in earnest, they found a quarterback who was advanced in reading defenses and in audibling in and out of plays. And when they first met him, especially head coach Doug Pederson, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and Reich, they observed a prospect who had similar traits to the great quarterbacks they had been around.
“He talked like it, he walked like it,” Reich said Tuesday. “I remember one of the things going [to North Dakota State] and … his coaches used to say that he had a lot of arguments with his offensive coordinator.
“For me, I took that as a good thing, because he knew what he wanted, he knew what was good, and we welcomed that and that’s a good dynamic.”
Wentz called his interactions with his college offensive coordinator Tim Polasak “healthy discussions” more than arguments. “He was a real fired up guy,” Wentz said of his former coach, who is now the offensive line assistant at Iowa.
While the discussions or arguments — or whatever term applies — may have heated up because of Polasek’s temperament, Wentz was there, too, debating his case. The Eagles drafted him, in part, because of his football intelligence and because they projected him as a quarterback who would develop into a play-caller on the field.
But Wentz, who has made significant strides in Year 2, has advocated for more input into game planning and in having more autonomy at the line.
“To some extent,” Wentz said Tuesday. “I’ve just always felt comfortable and that’s something with that relationship that Coach Pederson and I’ve been developing and growing constantly with that trust factor. He knows he has a lot of confidence in me to get out of plays and to get us into the right things.
“That just helps me to be more confident.”
Any successful coach understands the value of player feedback. But the quarterback position is unique. Wentz spends most of his time non-practice time with DeFilippo and Reich, but he’ll meet with Pederson as often as 2-3 times a day and they’ll go back and forth throughout the week.
“I don’t think I’m hesitant to speak up,” Wentz said.
With two former NFL quarterbacks in charge, it may be difficult to get a word in edge-wise.
“I wouldn’t call them arguments. We’re all stubborn,” Reich said. “Coaches, players — you’re very confident in what you know and what you believe and what you want. … What we appreciate about [Wentz] is that he’s mature enough to understand there’s a process.”
Wentz isn’t in the room when Pederson and Reich ultimately format the game plan, but his preferences are considered.
“We’ve had a lot of open dialogue,” Wentz said. “I respect the heck out of their opinions and I’m thankful they respect mine, as well.”
Wentz had some leeway to change plays pre-snap dating back to his first NFL start. But the Eagles continue to give him more freedom because he’s simply having more success. The proof has been there all season, but on Sunday he had arguably his best outing in 21 games as the Eagles whooped the Cardinals, 34-7.
They might not have scored their first touchdown had Wentz not gotten Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson to show press-man-to-man coverage with his hard count. Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery recognized it as well, dodged Peterson and caught a 16-yard strike on third down and 11.
Two series later, Wentz checked out a run play on third and 5 and tossed a 59-yard touchdown pass to receiver Torrey Smith. The 4-1 Eagles have converted a higher percentage of third downs than any NFL team, in part, because of Wentz’s pre-snap ability to decipher defenses.
“It’s knowing your playbook. It’s knowing what can realistically get into as far as play calls,” Wentz said. “But, shoot, we have a bunch of different terms every week that we’re thinking, so it ultimately comes down to preparation.”
Wentz may have just run-pass options on certain plays, or directional changes on rushes, or he may be given a larger number of possibilities during “take it” drives when the Eagles go up tempo.
“I can just call the formation,” Pederson said, and Wentz can “get to the line quickly, bark out cadence — kind of what Peyton Manning has done in his career type of thing.”
Wentz hasn’t quite adopted a dummy phrase like “Omaha” yet, and he doesn’t gesticulate as much as Manning or some other quarterbacks, but he has increasingly called for pre-snap adjustments.
The game hardly unfolds the way it was imagined on the chalkboard and there is only one person who can get the offense into the best possible play up until the snap. And that’s the quarterback.
“There’s plenty of times when the play [Pederson] calls is the perfect look and we just roll with it,” Wentz said. “But there’s times when you’re just seeing things and you want to get out of it. … I think the more effective we are with it the more it can grow.”