Carson Wentz didn’t look much different than he did when he last met with Philadelphia reporters. The Eagles quarterback sat in the same room at the NovaCare Complex, with his usual scruffy red beard, ubiquitous baseball cap – this one emblazoned with deer antlers and North Dakota’s 701 area code – and calmly answered questions.
It has, after all, been only 31/2 months since Wentz formally held a news conference the day after the season ended. If anything, he appeared more rested, which was inevitable after a hectic rookie year. But the Eagles also instructed their ambitious quarterback to take time off and get away from football.
And Wentz did. But it wasn’t entirely a vacation. He spent two weeks in late February working with mechanics instructor Adam Dedeaux in Irvine, Calif. Much has been made of Wentz’s throwing motion, because what else is there to pick on after a promising first season? But changes needed to be made, however minor.
“Just some simple things, things to the naked eye you probably wouldn’t notice,” Wentz said Monday after the Eagles’ first day of voluntary spring workouts. “A lot of it had to do with footwork. . . . But again, it was nothing [like a] real mass overhaul, just trying to make everything more efficient and smoother.”
There’s a cottage industry of “experts” on social media, talk radio and elsewhere who believe they know why Wentz regressed in midseason. They talk about his arm angle, elbow dropping or release point, but Wentz, in essence, confirmed what coach Doug Pederson had addressed last season as the occasional flaw in his delivery.
It’s all about that base.
If Wentz’s drop isn’t fast enough and his feet are not set properly, there’s going to be a chain reaction from the bottom up that will often result in an errant throw. The Eagles had identified this issue early after they drafted him. They immediately widened his base, but they also raised where he held the ball.
Wentz’s rookie season can almost be broken down into three parts. There were the first four games when the Eagles went 3-1, Wentz had a 103.5 passer rating and Lane Johnson was at right tackle. There were the next eight games when the Eagles went 2-6, Wentz had a 70.1 rating and Johnson was suspended. And there were the final four games when the Eagles went 2-2, Wentz had a 76.8 rating and Johnson played the final two weeks.
Over the course of the season, Wentz would sometimes revert to old habits. If his feet weren’t quick or the ball was held too low, his throws down the field would sporadically sail. But the Eagles also believed that the mechanical issues placed some additional strain on his right elbow.
As a result, Wentz experienced slight soreness in his elbow as the season waned, NFL sources told the Inquirer in March. The soreness was never serious enough that he had to be placed on the injury report, however.
“The elbow never was, no,” Wentz said when asked if the elbow was a problem late last season. “It was usual, general soreness that happens, but nothing of concern ever came up. Arm’s feeling great, the arm felt great all season.”
Wentz is likely right when he said that the changes that he and Dedeaux made would almost be negligible to the untrained eye. Every NFL quarterback, from Tom Brady to Matt McGloin, spends the offseason fine-tuning and tinkering with his mechanics. It isn’t necessarily what Wentz changed that is important but the fact that he did.
He had a good rookie season and did little to suggest that he won’t improve this fall and for years to come. The possibilities seem endless if you watch certain moments from 2016 and allow the mind to wander. But there’s a flip side to that coin. And if Wentz can’t start to address nagging mechanical defects, it could be the line between being Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers.
“Just consistency,” Wentz said when asked to specify the areas in which he wanted to improve most, “just being consistent with accuracy.”
Rodgers completed 63.6 percent of his passes when he was finally given the opportunity to start in his fourth season. Over the next three seasons his percentage jumped to 64.7 to 65.7 to 68.3. Wentz, strictly for the sake of comparison, completed 62.4 percent of his 607 attempts last season.
If there is a significant difference between their first seasons – again, Rodgers is just the control in this comparison – it is that Wentz averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt vs. 7.5 yards for the Packers quarterback.
Certainly, Wentz’s inexperience and mechanics could be explanations for his relatively low yardage per pass. But so, too, could the Eagles’ offensive personnel, particularly at receiver. Wentz would never toss teammates under the bus, but when he added “being confident with the timing within routes” as another reason for errant throws, it was difficult not to read that as a byproduct of having to work with the likes of Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham.
The Eagles, of course, addressed the position last month by signing free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Wentz didn’t exactly jump out of his seat when asked about his new receivers, and nor should he – the playoffs are never made in April. But he did say that he believed the Eagles had the pieces in place to attain the goal of winning the NFC East this season.
“Without a doubt,” Wentz said.
There’s still the draft plus two months of workouts, training camp and the preseason before the Eagles find out if the changes they made this offseason are beneficial. And the same could be said of Wentz and his mechanics.