IT IS the season of endorsements, but rarely does anyone get behind an unproven candidate with this level of fervor. It's the sort of endorsement that can make or break the endorser.
Frank Reich essentially painted rookie quarterback Carson Wentz as a can't-miss prospect. Wentz, who started just 23 FCS (I-AA) games. Wentz, who got just 39 preseason snaps before he broke his ribs. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick, who was supposed to carry a clipboard for a season or two so Sam Bradford could show him how it's done. Now that the Eagles traded Bradford on the eve of the season opener Sunday, Reich could not be happier to scrap that plan.
"I felt he was always ready," Reich said.
If there is any question whose voice in the predraft meetings was loudest in favor of trading away much of the Eagles' future to snag Wentz, Reich, the team's offensive coordinator, answered that question Thursday. He loved Wentz the first time he set eyes on North Dakota State tape.
"When you evaluate Carson, if there's five to seven key boxes that you're trying to check off for a guy who can come in and be an elite quarterback, he checks off all the boxes," Reich said. "Furthermore, if you're scoring all those boxes on a 1-to-10 scale, he scores nine or 10 on a lot of those boxes."
"He's 6-5, 240 pounds, and he's got very, very good athletic ability for the position. This is a big man's game. This is a physical game. You work that along with very high grades in processing speed and intelligence, and then leadership, and then playmaking ability . . . those are a lot of good (boxes) to check off."
Also, a strong arm.
None of this praise matters, of course, unless Wentz can fulfill Reich's prophecy Sunday in the opener against the Browns. Reich acknowledged that the game plan will not overtax Wentz; but then, with a new scheme for a new team, the game plan wasn't going to be too elaborate, anyway.
"You want to keep it simple and play fast," Reich said. "That would have been the case anyway, no matter who was playing quarterback."
Not that they're dumbing it down for Wentz, who, apparently, is a pigskin savant.
"I don't think the amount of stuff that's in the plan is going to be an issue for Carson. I can't (overemphasize) how smart this guy is. He is off-the-charts smart. Just plain smart. You know, like, smart smart," Reich said, unable to stop himself. "On top of that, the football IQ, the acumen, is, just, way, way high. Way high."
It's safe to predict that Wentz's brilliant young head will be spinning on Sunday, assuming it's still attached. Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who coached with Reich at Arizona in 2012, employs an extensive menu of blitzes, and the Eagles have a short list of playmakers. It won't be pretty, Reich said.
"It's probably the most difficult position to play in sports. There's no doubt in my mind he's ready to play (but) there's so many factors that can all play out."
It's not playing out the way anyone expected. Reich figured he would be coaching Bradford for at least one season while polishing Wentz's game: throwing mechanics, footwork, presnap reads, pocket presence, knowing when to abort a play. Few quarterbacks have suffered by waiting.
Certainly, Reich made sure to endorse the sit-and-wait plan of head coach Doug Pederson. That plan would still be unfolding if Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater had not shredded a knee and made the Vikings desperate enough to trade next season's first-round pick (as well as a future pick) for Bradford.
Reich also made it very clear that he prefers Wentz neither sits nor waits.
"I've always felt that whenever Carson got his chance - whether it was next year, or Game 3, or Game 10 - I've always felt he would be ready," Reich said. "Or Game 1."
Reich has a lot to lose with this sort of endorsement. What if Wentz turns into Ryan Leaf? Reich will never be allowed into another predraft meeting.
Reich has a lot to gain, too. If Wentz puts up numbers like Cam Newton (a much better comparison, by the way), then Reich will receive much of the credit.
Pederson is a rookie head coach tasked with eradicating the corrosive culture Chip Kelly left behind. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is in his fifth NFL stop in eight NFL seasons since becoming a position coach.
Reich could use the bona fides that accompany a star's rise. He played quarterback in the NFL for 14 years but he has only seven years of NFL experience as a position coach or better. He spent two of those years coaching receivers. The other five seasons he coached Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, who went to a combined 13 Pro Bowls before Reich worked with them.
Now, though, Reich can become the guy who, from one January to the next, turned an anonymous, small-school kid into the Franchise Player of a big NFL city. That's the sort of transformation that turns assistant coaches into head-coach candidates.
It's best to get on the front of that train. Reich is the engineer.
"The first time I watched Carson's college tape . . . his size and his strength and athleticism, and a natural playmaking ability. He just had that feel that you look for in a guy. It wasn't a guy who was just big and strong and could run and was athletic, this was a guy you could tell was in control," Reich said. "When you watched his film, you looked at his body movements. You look at the body language. When you're around this game for a long time, and you've seen the elite guys do it a long time, there's a body language, body movements . . . "
As one candidate for president noted Wednesday night, body language can tell you a lot.
It will never say as much as making actual plays.
"You watch 80 plays in a college game, and then there's 10 plays that you say, 'No one else can do that. That's what an NFL quarterback looks like.' That's what continually jumped off the tape. You watch 10 games and each game there's 10 plays that you say, 'That's what makes him the No. 2 pick in the draft,' " Reich said.
It's what makes Reich your No. 1 endorser.