There might have been an overstated reaction among fans and the media to Nate Sudfeld’s wrist injury Thursday night, given that Sudfeld is, after all, just the backup to Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
Sudfeld could be ready to play again just a few weeks into the season, after Sudfeld’s Friday surgery resulted in a source close to the situation predicting just a six-week recovery time.
Part of that overreaction might have had to do with the way the Eagles didn’t score any points with vet Cody Kessler or rookie Clayton Thorson helming the offense in a 27-10 preseason-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans. Kessler was merely uninspiring (3-for-6, 12 yards). Thorson was downright alarming (2-for-9, 7 yards, the game’s only interception, and a rare 0.0 passer rating).
Fans watching had to wonder how in the world the Eagles used one of their five 2019 draft choices on Thorson (taken in the fifth round, 167th overall) and how in the world he became Northwestern’s all-time passing leader, while setting a Big Ten record with 53 career starts.
“Nobody wants to go out there and throw an interception, throw the ball over a guy’s head,” Thorson said afterward. “I’ve made all those throws about a million times. Just gotta go out there and set my feet and make the throws.”
Thorson didn’t bristle at pointed questions, or make excuses.
“I felt good,” he said. “Our O-line was blocking well. I was seeing it. Guys were getting open.”
Though media observers feel Thorson has struggled with accuracy all through training camp, Eagles coach Doug Pederson chalked up the Thursday night performance to nerves, a theme that quarterbacks coach Press Taylor expanded upon Friday, when the Eagles held one of their occasional interview opportunities with position coaches.
“First time out -- I've been there as a young quarterback, nervous and excited and wanting to do well,” Pederson said. “And that all stems from -- you look at some of the balls he threw a little bit high and a little erratic -- it's just nerves and calming down, and playing in these games. He'll get better, and he'll get more reps now [with Sudfeld sidelined] and this will be a great experience for him, to watch this tape and learn from.”
Thorson, 6-foot-4, 222, said he “definitely was excited to get to play.”
Taylor said: “I think he probably wanted to go out and perform a little bit better than he did. I felt like he saw things pretty well. At the end, he probably just didn’t make the throws he wanted to make, but it’s a guy that played his first NFL game. … I know he’s excited to get back after it this week. We’ve got three more preseason games coming up, and more practice opportunities, and he’s ready to get going [Saturday], I know that.
“I really liked where his eyes were. He was in the right place. I think he really understands our offense, the scheme of things, I think there was just some adrenaline probably pumping through his body ... all correctable stuff.
“I kind of rack it up to nerves and get back to work [Saturday].”
Even if Thorson doesn’t really factor into their season plans, the Eagles need him to play better in these preseason games. It was hard to evaluate the receivers he was throwing to Thursday, since the ball rarely got anywhere near them. Pederson’s plan for Wentz seems to involve very little to no preseason playing time – and after what happened to Sudfeld, who can blame him? So Kessler and Thorson are going to play an awful lot, and the Eagles probably would like to score a point or two eventually.
Thorson now seems likely to start the season on the 53-man roster, which was far from a sure thing before Sudfeld’s injury.
“He’s really attacked just learning the offense. It’s all a new language for him … There’s a lot of details, a lot of intricacies,” Taylor said. “There’s growth every single day with him.”
Asked what he liked about Thorson during the draft process, Taylor talked about quite a few qualities. Accuracy was not among them.
“He’s a guy obviously that set the Big Ten record for starts, a guy that had a ton of experience. A guy that has the measurables. He’s a very mature person,” Taylor said. “Has a great knowledge of football, how to play. You just saw the experience and the leadership just kind of ooze out of the guy. When you get a chance to talk to him, he’s got a level head on his shoulders. He’s got a lot of those intangibles, as well, that you see in a lot of good players.”
The assumption Thursday night, at least before Pederson spoke, was that the Eagles might need to bring in someone just to take some practice reps, if nothing else. Taylor said Friday that wasn’t really the case. He pointed out that there are first-, second- and third-team units, and three remaining healthy QBs, they can all take on a little more work.
Taylor was asked what he said, or would say, to Thorson about that 0.0 game.
“There’s not much you need to say to a guy like that,” Taylor said. “We kind of know what type of person is, and he’ll bounce back and do good.”