And there’s no Nick Foles safety net any longer.
It was Foles, not Wentz, who led the Eagles to their Super Bowl victory to conclude the 2017 season, with Wentz sidelined by a knee injury suffered late in the regular season. It is Foles, not Wentz, who has a statue at Lincoln Financial Field, depicting him consulting with Coach Doug Pederson on the “Philly Special” play-call during the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. It was Foles, not Wentz, who rallied the faltering Eagles to the playoffs last season, with Wentz sidelined by a stress fracture in his back.
But it was Wentz, not Foles, on whom the Eagles’ brain trust of owner Jeffrey Lurie, front-office executive Howie Roseman and Pederson doubled down in the offseason. They allowed Foles to exit via free agency; he signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Eagles handed the starting job back to Wentz and signed him in June to a four-year, $128 million contract extension.
So Foles was nowhere to be seen as Wentz led the offense through drills earlier this week during a steamy training camp practice, then offered his assessment of the work being accomplished.
“It’s been solid progression so far,” Wentz said. “There’s been mistakes made personally. There have been mistakes offensively as a whole. It’s always [that way] early in camp; there’s some sloppy play. There’s false starts. There’s this and that, miscommunication. Definitely it’s never perfect, never where we want it to be. But I feel confident in the guys just to keep growing and to keep building from here.”
The Eagles’ decision to stick with Wentz makes perfect sense. He is, at 26, nearly four years younger than Foles. The Eagles traded up to take Wentz with the second pick of the 2016 draft and made him their season-opening starter as a rookie. He was in the league MVP conversation as a second-year pro in 2017 before suffering the knee injury that gave Foles his chance.
But it is unavoidable that the Eagles, a popular pick in the preseason to win the NFC East, had their greatest moments over the previous two seasons with Foles in charge. Now it’s up to Wentz to show that he can remain in the lineup and justify the Eagles’ unshaken confidence in him. This is, indisputably, his team now.
“Every year, you’re a year older and you’re no longer really the young guy anymore,” Wentz said. “You’re more like pushing veteran [status] and all those things. And so it’s just like I’ve said in the past: It’s just organically the leadership is built. But we have a handful of guys who have been here from my Day One here, that have been here a long time. And so you start to build that culture, build those relationships. And it just makes everything a lot smoother and a lot more effective when you have a bunch of guys that are trying to lead and lead in the same direction.”
Without Foles, Wentz’s understudy is likely to be Nate Sudfeld, the 2016 sixth-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins who is entering his third season in Philadelphia and has thrown a total of 25 NFL passes.
“I just want to put my best foot forward and show the coaches that they can trust me, put the ball in our playmakers’ hands, play fast, be decisive and just be efficient,” Sudfeld said. “I’m not trying to be Superman. Sometimes with natural instincts, you want to throw the deep bomb every time. But I’m trying to make the smart play every time so that they can trust me.”
But this is about Wentz, and the Eagles fortified the offense around him when they added wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back Jordan Howard in the offseason. Jackson, who turns 33 in December, returns for a second stint with the Eagles and is expected to provide a speedy complement to fellow wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
“It’s different playing with a guy like him,” Wentz said of Jackson. “It’s definitely exciting at the same time. That’s why it just takes a lot of communication. Physical reps are second to none. But just talking through everything — I feel really good. I feel I’m in a really good spot with him. I think we just keep building.”
The getting-to-know-you process is being watched closely. Wentz and Jackson seemed out of sync during a practice last weekend, but Jackson provided some big plays Monday.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Pederson said later that day. “He made some plays today. It’s great to see out on the practice field. They spent some time even after practice. That’s what it takes. You don’t build chemistry overnight.”
The offense could be imposing. Howard, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Chicago Bears, and rookie Miles Sanders, a second-round draft choice from Penn State, take over as the primary runners. At tight end, promising youngster Dallas Goedert complements Zach Ertz, who’s coming off a 116-catch season.
“It’s going to be fun this year to have Coach designing game plans to get everybody on the field, to get everyone touches, to spread the ball around,” Wentz said. “For me, it makes my job way easier to know that. … We’ve got talent everywhere. The guys that I’ve worked with in the past or that I trust a lot, my job is just going to be to spread the love and get the ball out and I’ll let those guys make the plays.”
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