Eagles players continued to grapple with the effects of this week’s quarterbacking change from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts as the team prepared Thursday for a visit Sunday from the 10-2 New Orleans Saints.
Running back Miles Sanders, a Wentz booster throughout Sanders’ two seasons here, nonetheless acknowledged that having Hurts calling signals might boost the read-option, and the running game overall.
“It should definitely open up the run game a lot more because defenses are going to have to respect Jalen’s legs, and what he can do with the ball. So hopefully it’s tough for them, and we can take advantage of it,” Sanders said.
The zone-read requires the running back and the quarterback to sync up on the mesh point to acquire timing.
“I’m pretty comfortable just getting a lot of mesh points and mesh handoffs after practice and in-between periods,” Sanders said.
Sanders said he is impressed with Hurts’ confidence as the second-round rookie prepares to face a defense that gives up the fewest yards (288.8) and fourth-fewest points per game (20.1) in the NFL.
“His confidence level is through the roof, and that’s what I really like about him,” Sanders said. “We don’t really know what’s going through his head, but he doesn’t really show any weaknesses.
“I love his confidence, his command in the huddle, and I’m excited to see him play, honestly.”
If you know Sanders’ story, you know he went to Penn State thinking he was going to split time with Saquon Barkley, then in effect became Barkley’s backup for three seasons. So Sanders can empathize with how Wentz has ended up in a situation that is not what he anticipated.
“I honestly don’t know exactly what he’s going through, but I definitely have been in his position before to the point where I’m not playing,” Sanders said. “I tell him every day since Sunday that I got his back no matter what. I’m still talking to him. Everybody’s still talking to him.
“He’s out there with a great attitude. He’s giving great looks for the defense. … He’s handled it pretty well.”
The offense, Sanders said, “got off track, and Coach Doug [Pederson], he decided to go with Jalen, and that’s what we’re going to do. … He’s the guy right now, us going as he’s going.”
Center Jason Kelce spoke Wednesday and left no doubt that he felt Wentz’s failure was his failure as well, part of a widespread breakdown from coaching throughout the position groups. Sanders seemed to agree.
“It’s messed up, kind of,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, this whole offense has a part in the reason why we are the way we are. Even me, my fumble, dropped passes, and some missed blocking assignments.”
Left tackle Jordan Mailata said, “I feel I could have done a lot more to help my team, to help Carson out, to help my O-line out.”
Mailata said he doesn’t think it will be much different, blocking for Hurts than it was for Wentz, who also was known to move around the pocket. Asked about Hurts, Mailata said he calls the rookie “Deuce” because he wears No. 2. This doesn’t cause confusion with running backs coach Duce Staley, Mailata said, because players do not call coaches by their first names.
“I call him ‘Coach,’ " Mailata said.
“From Day 1, since Jalen’s stepped in the building, he’s brought this type of swagger,” Mailata said. “You could tell as soon as he walked in, the man had confidence, and he’s always had confidence.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham said that team leaders “have to continue to make sure we have a good support system for both parties, Carson and Jalen.”
Graham also has a complicated story. Drafted in the first round in 2010, he didn’t play a majority of the Eagles’ defensive snaps until 2015. Asked what advice he would give Wentz, Graham said, “How you fix it is really working on the things that you need to get better at, and the things that tend to come up all the time. So for me, it’s I need to get off the ball faster. I need to start doing that for myself.
“When people start to tell you what they see, from the outside in, it’s on you to make those decisions. Continue to keep on working hard. Continue to keep on building at where you’re weak. … There’s a lot of confidence that we all still have in Carson. We’ve seen it. … So don’t worry about what the naysayers say. … You’re the one who can change what people are saying by how you work. That’s what kept me here, how hard I worked and how hard I tried to flip that negative and turn it into a positive.”