There was one play in particular on Monday that stood out to Philadelphia Eagles receiver Josh Huff. Quarterback Carson Wentz — working with the starting unit for the first time — dropped back, rolled out and launched a corner ball from one hash to the opposite sideline that hit tight end Zach Ertz in stride.
“That,” said Huff, “was an NFL-type throw.”
“He’s going to be a star. He’s a star right now. It’s just going to take some time.”
The Eagles don’t have much of that between now and the Sept. 11 opener against the Cleveland Browns. The trade that sent Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings for a first-round pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 came down just eight days before the start of the season, leaving the players little time to digest and adapt.
“There were rumblings going on, but obviously I think everybody was pretty surprised when it first came out that it actually was going to happen. So that was my first reaction, was just shock,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “But after you have time to think about it, I think Carson, when he’s been in there, has done a great job. He’s a very smart guy, obviously has tremendous talent.
“What we were getting [in return for] Sam from Minnesota was a pretty good deal, I feel like — obviously the Eagles felt like. And we’re losing a really solid veteran player that we had. I thought he was having a really good preseason, and obviously Minnesota thought that, too. So that’s the way it is in the NFL. Obviously we drafted Carson for a reason. He’s got all the tools, and we’re ready to go now.”
Ertz admitted to being down when he heard the news, while experiencing a bit of déjà vu. He remembers talking first with Nick Foles on the day he was traded from the Eagles to the Rams last March, and then Bradford a short time later, and the up-and-down emotions that went along with that. Similarly, Ertz got a call from Bradford at around 8 a.m. Saturday, he said, followed by one from Wentz about an hour or two later.
“[Wentz] just said, ‘Let’s go, man. It’s time to have some fun. Time to dominate like we’ve been planning all along, no matter who was at quarterback.’ … I was obviously disappointed at first that Sam was traded,” said Ertz, “but I worked too hard this offseason to feel disappointed for longer than an hour. Once Carson called me, I kind of had the juices flowing again, really excited about the year, and that was that.”
There were a couple of concerns raised Monday, mostly about the learning curve that comes along with incorporating a rookie quarterback into the offense, especially this close to the beginning of the season.
Wentz did not start getting first-team reps until this week. Chemistry needs to be developed, and quickly. Kelce and Wentz have worked on the center-quarterback exchange some in practice, but never in a game or even in a team-drill setting until Monday. They’ll spend long hours together over the next few days talking over protections and working to get on the same page. Wentz will have to do the same with his backs, receivers and tight ends.
There’s likely to be growing pains, which could equal fewer wins. That’s not the easiest pill to swallow for some veterans in win-now mode. And it’s a process that will require some patience. One skill-position player wondered if the fan base would be patient while the rookie quarterback takes his lumps.
A touch of uneasiness, then, in at least some pockets of the locker room. But that seems to be tied solely to the circumstances surrounding the timing of the trade and Wentz’s sudden ascension to the top. To a man, the players appear to be high on the young quarterback overall.
“I think he is a very sharp kid that is not going to be too shell-shocked by things that defenses are going to throw at him,” Kelce said. “I think he, for the most part, is on top of things mentally, which is an added bonus at that position.”
“He has a big job on his plate, so do I,” said Lane Johnson, who has yet to hear about his possible suspension and expects to play this week. “We’re all behind him and are going to push him along, but I think he’ll do well.”
Wentz also appears to have the backing of Chase Daniel, who was passed over in favor of the rookie despite his knowledge of Doug Pederson’s system from their years together in Kansas City.
“That was the plan all along. Right when I heard that Sam got traded, I was informed that Carson was going to be the starter. … It was pretty clear,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for me personally, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about one person, it’s about the team. It’s about what gives us the best shot to win moving forward, and obviously some guys think that’s Carson, and that’s fine. And we’re going to get behind that and roll with it. My preparation is not going to change. If anything, it just helps me a little bit more just to get that fire going and help the young buck come Sunday.”