PHILADELPHIA — Speaking Thursday about his development as a leader, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz noted he is entering his fifth NFL season, and got caught on that thought for a moment.
“It still seems crazy to say it’s my fifth year,” Wentz said, breaking into a smile as the next thought popped up. “Definitely feel like a veteran now.”
Looking at the differences between this summer and last shows the accelerated timeline NFL players work on, and how much has changed in a calendar year for Wentz, who suddenly finds himself smack in his prime and with plenty to prove.
Start with the physical. Last year, Wentz arrived at training camp noticeably slimmed down, the product of a refined gluten-free diet and a reimagined workout regimen that focused on mobility, flexibility and range of motion instead of “the high school/college mindset of just lift, lift, lift, work hard, work hard.”
His home gym clearly got plenty of use over the past few months, as Wentz arrived at the Eagles’ facility this week looking more muscular than he has ever been.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) July 27, 2020
“The last couple offseasons I was dealing with injuries and trying to bounce back from injuries. This offseason, I was really able to get after it and work out a little harder in the gym and all those things,” said Wentz, who was shut down in 2018 with a fracture in his back and the year before that with torn ligaments in his knee. “I haven’t gained anything insane for weight, but I’ve definitely gained some weight and feel good where I’m at.”
Some have joked that it’s just a matter of adding “dad strength.” Wentz, who is 6-foot-5 and was listed at 237 pounds last year, became a father in April, an event that instantly changed his perspective on life, he said. Wentz and his wife, Maddie, talked and prayed a lot about him returning to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, and feel good about his decision to play in 2020.
One of the oldest teams in the league started a youth movement this offseason, with veterans leaders such as safety Malcolm Jenkins departing as a new wave of talent arrived. It included Jalen Hurts, the gifted signal-caller out of Oklahoma whom the Eagles shockingly selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. The Eagles remain committed to Wentz, but the addition of Hurts brings a new dynamic to the QB room, which included Nate Sudfeld, Cody Kessler and Clayton Thorson this time last year. How could it not feel like the temperature has been turned up a notch or two?
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some really good quarterbacks, and that’s not going to change my approach to the game personally or how I help him,” Wentz said of Hurts. “I’m going to be here for him, help him to understand the ins and outs of the game and ultimately do what I can to help the team, and that’s to help bring him along as well.”
The new wave also brought three speed wide receivers in Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins and John Hightower by way of the draft. Wentz expressed excitement about their arrival. And why not? The trio promises to add an explosive element to an offense that Wentz had to push like a boulder uphill far too often in 2019.
Starting around Thanksgiving last season, right before Wentz really got that rock rolling, players began voting for the 2020 NFL Top 100 list, a process that stretched over six weeks. Wentz was left off the list. He was No. 96 in 2019, way down from his No. 3 finish following his near-MVP campaign the year prior.
It’s one more thing that can be used as fuel for what could prove to be a defining season for the suddenly veteran Carson Wentz.
“You’ve seen me over the years: I usually don’t get too caught up in a lot of that stuff. When I see it, I usually wish I didn’t see it or hear about it,” he said. “But you can always use anything and everything just as a little bit of extra motivation. So it is what it is, it’s voted on by the players. I’m not going to let that cause me to lose any sleep or anything. But I do look forward to going out this year and showing what I can do with my teammates.”
Raiders’ Jon Gruden calls backup QB Marcus Mariota ‘dazzling playmaker’
HENDERSON, Nev. — While Derek Carr is firmly entrenched as the Las Vegas Raiders starting quarterback, the guy signed to be his backup, Marcus Mariota, impressed coach Jon Gruden on Friday, the third practice of training camp in which players wore helmets.
“He’s interesting,” Gruden said with a smile of Mariota. “He took off a couple times today and it really fired me up. He’s been hurt, but looks like the ankle really turned a corner. He’s a dazzling playmaker with his feet and that’s the key to his game.
“I saw glimpses of that today. It’s exciting. Started off slow on 7-on-7 [drills], but [he] picked it up, had a nice day. Had a real nice day.”
Indeed, Mariota, who lost his starting job with the Tennessee Titans to Ryan Tannehill last season, struggled early in practice, missing tight end Jason Witten badly on an intermediate pass to the right sideline. And he throws a different ball than Carr.
But it is Mariota’s scrambling ability and willingness to extend plays with his legs that makes him a good fit for Gruden’s offense. Even as Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, has said since signing as a free agent with Las Vegas in March that the Raiders were Carr’s team.
In fact, both Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft by the Titans, and Carr, a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2014, suffered season-ending broken legs on the same day in Week 16 of the 2016 season.
“It’s like weird, crazy things that link you together,” Carr said earlier in camp.
“I’ll tell you one thing, in our quarterback group you have to compete and that’s what I do. Anyone that’s around me, all I’m going to do is compete. I’ve had multiple starters in the NFL come in here and be in the same room as me. You can go through the list about who’s started games and who’s been in our quarterback room. It happens all the time, but when you go 7-9, people like to make up stuff.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Mariota would push Carr, a three-time Pro Bowler and the franchise’s all-time leading passer who is coming off career highs in passing yardage (4,054), completion percentage (70.4%) and Total QBR (62.2) but is just 39-55 as a starter, with one winning season in six years.
And as Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com, “The best quarterbacks are the ones that have the wins; stats will follow.”
Mariota is 29-32 as a starter.
“Competition brings out the best in any player in any sport,” Olson said.
“I would say it’s the best competition that we’ve had since we’ve been here.”
Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett ‘had lot of hesitation’ about playing before deciding not to opt out
Lockett’s concern stemmed from a preexisting heart abnormality as well as the fact that much of his family has asthma. Before the Seahawks drafted Lockett in the third round in 2015, medical checks at the scouting combine revealed that his aorta is on his right side. At the time, Lockett was briefly unsure if he would be able to continue playing football.
“So just with everything that happened in COVID, that was one of my biggest issues was just trying to make sure [this heart condition] wasn’t gonna affect me if I was able to go out there and play,” Lockett said Friday on a video conference with reporters. “Obviously, nobody really knows. You’ve got doctors who kind of give you what you need to know up front, what they think and what their biggest opinion is of it, but I think I had my chance to opt out, and I said that if I come up here, I’m gonna just play.
“I know that we’ve got Pete [Carroll], we’ve got a lot of older coaches. They don’t want to put themselves in a situation to get sick neither, so I told myself if they could do it then I know I could do it. And if I’m going to come out here and play, then I’m just going to do what needs to be done. I’m not going to stress about COVID. I did that from February to before we came into camp.”
The 27-year-old Lockett has led the Seahawks in receiving in each of the past two seasons.
His family experienced a scare earlier this year when a cousin contracted COVID-19. The woman had previously lived with Lockett in Seattle.
“It was bad,” he said. “I would get messages from her mom and she would send me like a long paragraph and stuff because my cousin never told me. She was just telling me how she was having a hard time breathing, she really didn’t feel good, and when I ended up talking to my cousin after she ended up overcoming it, she had told me that there was one day where her body was just aching so much she had told a woman … basically like she really didn’t think she was going to make it. She was like, she didn’t think her body was going to be able to deal with what she really felt another day.”
Lockett said the cousin has asthma, as does much of his father’s side of his family.
“That’s why it made me question if I wanted to come play,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff in my family to where I don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy.”
The Seahawks had one player, guard Chance Warmack, opt out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. As of Friday, they had placed only one player on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and that was due to a false positive test to wide receiver John Ursua, who has since been activated and is taking part in practice.
Colts’ Jacoby Brissett says he knows he’ll start at QB again somewhere
INDIANAPOLIS — Jacoby Brissett might never start another game at quarterback for the Colts. But in his mind, he believes he’ll be a starter again in the NFL at some point down the road after he failed to hold on to the job in Indianapolis in 2019.
Brissett said he was surprised when coach Frank Reich gave him the news last winter that they were replacing him with veteran Philip Rivers as the starter. Reich acknowledged that Brissett, like any other player would be, was upset by the demotion.
“I still believe in myself,” Brissett said Friday in his first public comments since Rivers’ arrival. “I know I’m a starter in this league. I know I can play at a high level. I did it last year.”
Brissett became the starter when Andrew Luck announced his retirement two weeks before the regular season last year. The Colts gave Brissett a two-year contract, allowing him the opportunity to prove he could be the next franchise quarterback.
Brissett, however, didn’t consistently play at a level needed to lead a team to the playoffs last year. He started strong in leading the Colts to a 5-2 record, including victories over playoff teams Houston, Tennessee and Kansas City. But Brissett, who suffered a knee injury at Pittsburgh in early November, faltered down the stretch as the Colts lost seven of their final nine games to miss the playoffs.
He finished 29th in the NFL with 196.1 yards per game and was hesitant to take shots down the field.
General manager Chris Ballard gave an indication a change was going to occur when he said the jury was still out on Brissett at the end of last season. Rivers is a 38-year-old veteran who has passed for 59,271 yards and 397 touchdowns in his 16-year career. Brissett said he still plans to compete even though Rivers is now the starter.
“I really can’t say enough positive [things] about how he has been with this change, I guess — I don’t know another word for it, with me being here and also how he has just been,” Rivers said. “He’s an impressive guy to be around. The way he works at it and then how helpful he’s been with little things, ‘Here’s how we signal this. Here’s how I usually set that. Here is how I set that.’ Then the few things that I’m like, ‘Gosh, can we do this? Can we do that?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll learn it. Whatever you are most comfortable with.’ So he has been super helpful, gracious.”
Brissett still has significant value to the Colts. Reich has said they plan to have special packages for Brissett to get him onto the field this season. And Brissett has to be ready to step in and start at any moment, especially with the uncertainty when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.
Brissett, like Rivers, will be a free agent at the end of this season. “I know I’ll be a starter in this league one day again,” Brissett said. “Wherever that may be.”
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