Carson Wentz dropped back and flicked a crisp pass over the middle to Jalen Reagor. The Eagles’ first-round rookie wideout plucked the ball in stride.
This was a brief glimpse Monday of what the team hopes its offense will look like, in 2020 and beyond. But it was just a glimpse.
Wentz and the Eagles held an actual practice with pads, the first of the 2020 training camp, and it looked, well, it looked like a training camp practice. It did not look like a typical Aug. 17 practice, a date when in other years, the team would have been preparing for its second preseason game, in its third week of padded practices.
“The short answer would be ‘no,’ " Wentz said afterward, when asked if he is where he would be normally with Reagor and the other young receivers, such as John Hightower (fifth-round rookie) and Quez Watkins (sixth round). “There’s no way to make up for the reps that you lose on the grass, the spring reps for those guys, postdraft, in here. Those are valuable, I’m not gonna lie.
“But I have seen a willingness and a desire to learn and to learn quick, to understand and process the game and our playbook very quickly. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with all those young guys.
“This was the first time we threw pads on, and it was a pretty short practice. We’ve got a couple of weeks here before we’re preparing for Washington [Sept. 13, the season opener], and they’re going to be valuable. … I feel pretty good about where those guys are at, but just getting the reps on the grass, those are going to be extremely important over the next few weeks.”
On Monday, Wentz was throwing mostly to a wide receiving corps of Reagor, DeSean Jackson, and Greg Ward, with Ward lined up in the slot. That job seems to be Ward’s to lose, especially with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside sidelined with a lower-body injury. The Eagles listed Arcega-Whiteside as “day-to-day.”
Earlier, coach Doug Pederson praised Wentz for his conditioning and his leadership. Pederson said Wentz, 27, is “really taking ownership in this pandemic.”
Wentz is used to being a leader, as he enters his fifth season, but that role is especially important in preparing the young receivers, he noted.
“Just trying to not only get better personally but make everyone around me better,” Wentz said. “That’s more than just the physical side of things on the field – that’s the mental side of things, understanding why we do things, or how we run certain routes and certain concepts … try to make sure everyone’s on the same page, so they’ll think and react and respond the same way I see certain things.”
Wentz acknowledged that right tackle Lane Johnson was correct when Johnson told reporters that the QB had bulked up to 250 pounds, on his 6-foot-5 frame. His first four seasons, Wentz was listed at 237. Earlier, center Jason Kelce referred to Wentz’s “dad bod.”
“I told Kelce he could have said ‘dad strength,’ but whatever you want to call it,” Wentz said. He and his wife, Maddie, welcomed their first child, Hadley Jayne, on April 27.
Pederson wanted Monday’s practice to strike a balance, for the linemen to get used to actual hitting, without hiking the injury factor by going too hard right away.
“Without having [preseason] games to really evaluate and critique, mistakes get magnified in regular-season games,” he said. “So we have to do our best to eliminate those in the next couple weeks. In practices, it’s my job to put our team in situations to understand that, out on the practice field, so that we can minimize those issues when we get ready for Washington.”
Though tight end Dallas Goedert had the catch of the day, going high for a one-handed stab in the end zone, Reagor seemed to fit in well. He was not among the players the Eagles provided to reporters via Zoom, but the rookie looked smooth and confident.
“Having Jalen has been a lot of fun, just to work with him. He’s an explosive athlete; you can see that with the route-running ability and his downfield presence,” Wentz said.
“Turn on his highlight tape, you see what he does with the ball in his hand. That’s one thing we haven’t been able to see [during limited workouts at NovaCare], obviously. … I know what he brings as a threat to the defense and I know he’s really picked up on things really well. He’s always listening, always curious about why we’re doing things a certain way, or how I saw a certain play. That’s the type of thing I look for, as a veteran, [in these] young guys. They truly want to learn, they want to grow, they want to be great.
“I see that in him. I see an extremely bright future with him, and I’m excited to help him become the player that he dreams of being.”
Alshon Jeffery watched practice; Pederson said there is no timetable yet for Jeffery’s return from December Lisfranc foot surgery, but there have been indications that Jeffery expects to rejoin the wide receiver group sometime during the first month of the season.
“I’m expecting the same Alshon. When he’s back on the field, he’s a tough guy to cover,” Wentz said. He and Jeffery seem to have gotten past Jeffery’s alleged criticisms of the quarterback. “Those 50-50 balls, he’s usually going to come down with them. I enjoy playing with him.”
Wentz didn’t appear in any preseason games last year, so his situation as he prepares for the season doesn’t seem all that different.