By Nick Shook
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His best pass might have been his second.
Facing second-and-15 from his own 32 with 1:15 left in the first half, Carson Wentz took a short drop from the shotgun, immediately jumped forward toward his right in the pocket and fired a dart to tight end Zach Ertz for a gain of 19 and a shower of cheers from the Eagles‘ faithful.
Wentz followed that with a short completion to Rueben Randle, a my-guy-or-no-guy toss out of bounds down the sideline, and a quick hitter under pressure that glanced off the hands of Ertz.
A punt followed, and Wentz continued into the night, commanding the Philadelphia offense in the second half of a 17-9 win. He was kept out of the end zone, and his stat line (12-of-24 passing for 89 yards, one interception) wasn’t quite indicative of his true performance. No worries.“By no means is he perfect or was anybody perfect tonight,” head coach Doug Pederson told reporters Thursday night, via CSN Philadelphia. “But pleased for his first outing and we’ve just got to continue to work with him on a daily basis and get him where he needs to be.”
When it comes to the eye test, Wentz’s first completion was one you expect from a second-overall pick. But as it often goes with high selections, it’s equally comforting as it is exciting to see a perceived franchise savior make a throw worthy of his christening.
That’s not to crown Wentz as the league’s next Manning or Brady. But it’s not a bad start.
“It was fun,” Wentz said of his NFL debut. “First opportunity I had, I’m running the two-minute drill, so I enjoyed that. I hadn’t had a ton of reps lately in practice, but it was fun out there. I finally got to take some hits, it’s been a while since that’s happened.
“There are definitely some things to improve on for myself and as a team, but it was enjoyable.”
One of those things to improve on was Wentz’s performance under pressure. Tampa Bay didn’t relent, and as Wentz was hurried (and as he mentioned, hit), a few of his passes fell a tad short of their intended targets. One ended up in the hands of the opponent, an interception that killed an otherwise impressive drive that covered 72 yards in 10 plays but ended inside the red zone.
It looked like a miscommunication. Wentz took the blame. It’s not only expected of a rookie, but also of a rookie in his first preseason game. Again, no worries.
“I thought some plays were made,” Wentz said. “There were still some plays that needed to be made that were left on the field. The interception in the red zone is something you never want to do. That ball sailed on me.
“Overall, there’s a lot of good things to build on and as a team, we’re walking away with a win, so at the end of the day, that’s a positive.”
Wentz displayed athleticism and an ability to move both in and outside the pocket that should haveEagles fans salivating, considering the rookie is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds. They should also be encouraged by his desire to make a play, even if it means taking a hit that would leave most franchise executives, fans and coaches cringing late in the fourth.
Most coaches not named Pederson.
“Kind of loved it,” Pederson said. “Wish he would have hurdled the guy instead of taking one in the legs. You know the guy is going low on a big quarterback like that. They’re usually not going to stay up. I wish he would have hurdled. The fact he’d done a lot of that in college, that was a no-brainer for me.”
Wentz won’t be in the starting lineup anytime soon, if all goes according to plan. But based on Thursday night, when he’s ready to take over, Philadelphia should be eager to hand him the keys.