Carson Wentz experiences typical rookie ups and downs in Eagles preseason debut

Nick Fierro
Contact ReporterOf The Morning Call
Wentz shows dynamic abilities in #Eagles' preseason triumph.

PHILADELPHIA — By the time he completed just three series in his first professional preseason game Thursday evening, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz showed why the team gave up so much to get him.

He also showed why the plan by coach Doug Pederson to keep him on the sideline this year is so prudent.

In short, he did a little bit of everything in a 17-9 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finishing with 12 completions in 24 attempts for 89 yards and an interception. However, he scrambled three times for 15 yards and did not take a sack.

"It was fun," he said. "The first opportunity I had, I'm running the 2-minute drill [at the end of the first half], so I enjoyed that. Hadn't had a ton of reps with it in practice, but it was fun out there.

"I finally got to take some hits. It's been a while since that's happened. But overall I had a lot of fun out there. There were definitely some things to improve on for myself and as a team, but overall it was enjoyable."

Wentz displayed dynamic ability and poise in driving the Eagles down the field on their second series of the third quarter. He found tight end M.J. McFarland for a 16-yard gain to convert one third down and calmly delivered a 7-yard strike to Cayleb Jones when faced with a third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 22. Although Jones lost a fumble on the play, the series was kept alive because Wentz was hit late.

But on the next play, he threw off his back foot under a heavy rush and was intercepted by Isaiah Johnson at the 3.

Wentz was given a short field the next time he touched the ball, thanks to an interception and 18-yard return by linebacker Quentin Gause to the Tampa Bay 33.

Though unable to deliver a first down, Wentz fearlessly scrambled around left end on third down before being helicoptered to the ground on a vicious but clean hit by Javien Elliott 1 yard short of the marker. Unscathed, Wentz at least put the team in better position for Caleb Sturgis to kick a 42-yard field goal and a 17-6 lead.

On his final series, Wentz was given a chance to stay in and try to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 37 with 4:42 remaining. He tried to hit T.J. Graham on a short slant. But it was broken up by Johnthan Banks. Wentz showed incredible poise on the play as he was hit hard upon the release.

After slowly getting up and shaking it off, he was done for the night, and the Eagles were on their way to a defense-dominated win.

"Got one in the ribs," Wentz said of his final play. "It was hard to breathe there for a second, but all good."

The game began with a bang for the Eagles, as backup outside linebacker Najee Goode, thrust into a starting role on this night because of an injury to Mychal Kendricks, knocked the ball loose from Kenny Bell on the game-opening kickoff.

Chris Maragos recovered for the Eagles inside the 20-yard line, and they capitalized quickly, making it into the end zone on just three plays.

Ryan Mathews finished off the short drive with a 5-yard burst that immediately followed a 10-yard run with the help from a big block by tight end Brent Celek.

That would be it for most of the first-team offense — and for any offense at all for the Eagles for the rest of the first half. They went to intermission with just 78 yards and six first downs.

But they also held a 14-6 lead because their defense was just as good as the second-team offense was poor.

A strip-sack and recovery by Fletcher Cox inside the 20 set up a second TD, this time when backup quarterback Chase Daniel followed up a 6-yard run by Kenjon Barner with a 3-yard scramble to put the Eagles up by two touchdowns.

"I just saw the ball and I knew I couldn't get a body on it," Cox said of the strip, "so I just reached around and tried to get the ball out."

The Bucs did respond by putting together a 79-yard touchdown drive, with Jameis Winston hitting Russell Shepard with a 26-yard pass to finish it off.

That would be the only burp for the defense before halftime, however. And in the second quarter, pressure by defensive end Steven Means forced a hurried throw by Mike Glennon that was intercepted by Maragos.

Finally, with under 2 minutes to go, backup middle linebacker Joe Walker shot the gap on a fourth-and-1 to stop Storm Johnson for a 3-yard loss.

Wentz was handed the keys to the offense at that point, drawing a roar from the crowd.

Lesson of the week

Rookie mistakes in NFL preseason games are an inevitability.

But third-year tight end Trey Burton's message to his less-experienced Philadelphia Eagles teammates before Thursday's preseason opener was that they may not necessarily be the end of the world. His first such error in the summer of 2014 can serve as a lesson for all those who have come after him.

"It was in Chicago," he said. "The second play I was in, I look over and see the hand signal [because the Eagles ran mostly a no-huddle offense under former coach Chip Kelly] and I line up on the wrong side of the [formation]. So we're in quads on one side instead of being in trips on one side. So we ended up being in an illegal formation, I'm pretty sure.

"But I came off the ball and jacked the dude and I remember [tight ends] Coach [Justin] Peelle came over to me and he was like, 'what are you doing dude? You lined up on the wrong side of the field.' But after he got on me for that, he was like, 'well, at least you came off the ball pretty hard.' And that's really it with these rookies. You're going to make mistakes, you're going to do things where you're in the complete wrong position, but as long as you're playing hard and you show effort and do the things you can't really coach, that's what will give you the best shot."

nick.fierro@mcall.com

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