Week 1 Preview: Browns at Eagles
The last time Carson Wentz was preparing for the Cleveland Browns, he was studying up for facetime with head coach Hue Jackson and vice president Sashi Brown and preparing to sell himself as the future of a franchise that hasn't had a winning face at quarterback in decades.
Cleveland decided in March that Wentz and California's Jared Goff weren't worthy of the No. 2 selection in the draft and moved the second pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday, Wentz will make his NFL debut as a rookie starter for the Eagles against the visiting Browns in the regular-season opener for both teams.
"Everybody has their opinions. Listen, we went to North Dakota. We worked him out," Eagles first-year head coach Doug Pederson said of landing Wentz. "We spent a lot of time with him like everybody that has drafted quarterbacks in the National Football League. If you don't spend time with those guys and come away feeling comfortable about your decisions, then you should probably look somewhere else. We just felt so comfortable at the Eagles to make the moves to go get Carson Wentz and felt very strong about the way we evaluated."
Browns vice president Paul DePodesta said in April that Cleveland didn't view Wentz as a potential top-20 starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Eagles doubled down last week, dealing away their incumbent starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, to the Minnesota Vikings. The deal recouped a first-round pick in 2017 for Philadelphia, and sped up the development plan for Wentz.
Wentz was drafted behind Goff, who went No. 1 to the Los Angeles Rams, and goes head-to-head with former No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III on Sunday. Griffin, voted a team captain by teammates this week, signed a two-year deal after being released by the Washington Redskins in March.
Jackson seems to believe the resurrection of Griffin is on schedule. He averaged 8.2 yards per completion and threw three TD passes in 38 total preseason attempts, also rushing for 40 yards on five carries. Perhaps most important, he enters Week 1 unscathed and moved further from durability questions that overshadowed a strong rookie season with the Redskins.
Where Wentz stands in his progression from FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to the NFL is far less certain. While Griffin had 38 pass attempts in three games in August, a rib injury limited Wentz to 39 total snaps - less than any quarterback drafted in the first four rounds in April. He averaged 3.9 yards per completion with none longer than 19 yards in exhibition games.
"A great opportunity for him. With the trade, it definitely sped up Carson's timetable to play," Pederson said, adding that Wentz was in the film room at Eagles headquarters at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday when the coach arrived. "We are excited for that. He is ready to go. I have said all along and he is such a sharp guy. He studies. He pays attention to detail. It will be big for him from a preparation standpoint to really fully understand the gameplan and study the film and do the things that he did in college and what I have seen so far these last couple of days."
Neither team limited its offseason makeover to changing head coaches and quarterbacks.
Cleveland parted with outside linebacker Paul Kruger and lost center Alex Mack to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, two locker-room leaders that can't be instantly replaced by the Browns' wave of first- and second-year players.
The Eagles traded high-priced cornerback Byron Maxwell to Miami in a deal that also included linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Offensive tackle Lane Johnson is facing a 10-game suspension for alleged violation of the league performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Wentz said Wednesday he is rolling with it, and even amidst the rapid pace of changes in Philadelphia, he feels prepared.
"Things changed around here pretty quickly. I think there were a lot of people that were surprised, but now, it is just move forward. Move forward, on to the next," Wentz said. "I'm ready for my turn. I'm excited for it."
Philadelphia is no stranger to Griffin, who has five starts in his career against the Eagles with a 98.3 passer rating.
Wentz and Dallas Cowboys starter Dak Prescott are the only rookie quarterbacks in Week 1 starting lineups. Goff is expected to be inactive at San Francisco on Monday night.
Updated September 9, 2016