Before the Eagles’ 27-10 preseason loss to Tennessee on Thursday, the last time Cody Kessler had been at Lincoln Financial Field for a football game was three years ago.
It was Week 1 of the 2016 season, Eagles vs. the Cleveland Browns. Kessler was a third-round rookie for the Browns and the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown.
Late in the game, a lopsided 29-10 Eagles win, Griffin suffered a shoulder injury on a scramble. A week later, McCown also went down with a shoulder injury. What are the chances, huh? Just like that, the rookie No. 3 quarterback found himself behind the steering wheel of an NFL offense.
“I still remember my first actual series as the starter,” Kessler said. “Fumbled snap, sack, sack. Not the kind of start you dream about. You want to come out and be perfect right away. But that doesn’t often happen.”
There were few perfect moments for Kessler and the Browns that year. He started eight games, and the Bad News Browns -- who would finish 1-15 -- lost all eight.
He actually didn’t play that badly. He threw just two interceptions in those eight games and had a passer rating of 90 or better in five of them.
“Personally, that [season] was beneficial to me, to get that experience starting those games,” Kessler said. “It was a rough season. Tough times. But all experience is good experience. Especially in this league.”
On Thursday, as so often happens in sports, someone else’s misfortune once again has benefited Kessler.
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Nate Sudfeld, the backup to starting quarterback Carson Wentz, broke his left (nonthrowing) wrist late in the first half. He had surgery Friday morning and might just miss six weeks. Unless the Eagles get another quarterback, Kessler, who was signed by the Eagles in mid-May and was behind Wentz and Sudfeld, will be Wentz’s backup, at least until Sudfeld returns.
“I’ve known Nate for a little while now, and you just hate to see that,” said Kessler, who went 2-2 in four starts for Carolina last season when Cam Newton was out. “Watching him, he puts everything into it. I feel for him. It’s emotional. It’s tough to see your brothers go down like that.
“But injuries happen in this league. You’ve got to have the next-man-up mentality. That’s the mindset I’m taking into it.
“Obviously, I’m going to lean on Nate and Carson a lot. But you have to take advantage of opportunities when they come along and make the most of them. At the same time, I feel for Nate.”
Backup quarterback situations typically don’t get much attention. But because of Wentz’s injury history — he’s suffered significant injuries in each of his last four years dating back to his senior season at North Dakota State, and has missed 21 of his teams’ last 68 games — and because the Eagles are considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the identity, and the capability of their No. 2 quarterback could end up being very relevant.
The 6-foot-1 Kessler isn’t as big as the 6-6 Sudfeld or the 6-5 Wentz, and his arm strength isn’t in the same ballpark, either. Because he’s only been with the team since mid-May, he also doesn’t have the same grasp of the offense that Sudfeld has, after two years in the system.
But Kessler is a smart guy whose comfort level with the offense figures to improve as he gets more reps in both practice and the preseason as the No. 2 quarterback.
Kessler played a little more than a quarter Thursday in the Eagles’ loss before giving way to struggling rookie Clayton Thorson. He was 3-for-6 for just 12 yards. That actually was head-and-shoulders better than Thorson, who completed just 2-of-9 passes for 7 yards and had an interception.
“It’s nice to get those first reps out of the way,” Kessler said. “Live game reps. The first play I was out there, they brought cover zero [eight rushers]. Kind of an introduction to playing here.”
Kessler’s pass to Charles Johnson on the play went incomplete, but the Titans were flagged for a second straight roughing-the-passer penalty.
“I got a couple of drives in tonight,” he said. “Something to build off of. Something to learn from. I made some good reads. I missed a ball on the side, but that’s just part of it.
“I’ve got to take that next step fast with this offense. Take positives from practice and build off of that going into next week.
“I’m very thankful I got the reps I did in the spring [in OTAs], even though it wasn’t a lot. I’ve had a couple of months with this offense now, and I’m feeling a lot better with it.”
Wentz didn’t play at all against the Titans. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t play next week against Jacksonville, either. The injury to Sudfeld has made it even more important for the Eagles to get their star quarterback to the starting line in one piece.
Kessler said he spent much of the team’s six-week down time in June and July before training camp “taking my playbook out to the throwing sessions I had with my quarterback coach, and kind of calling those plays out and going through the progressions in my head.
“It helped me a lot when camp started. I made some plays downfield and was able to push the ball down the field and know where to go with the ball, instead of being a little hesitant.”
If Wentz manages to stay healthy, which is a big if, then Kessler — and even Sudfeld — will be little more than faces in the crowd in the much-anticipated drama that is the Eagles’ 2019 season. If he doesn’t, well, buckle your seat belts, ladies and gents. It could be a bumpy ride.
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For now, Kessler just wants to be ready. Because he knows firsthand that anything can happen. And usually does.