For all of Carson Wentz's North Dakota pride, he was actually born in Raleigh, N.C., and lived there until he was 4. Even after moving to Bismarck, Wentz remained a North Carolina State fan. So from 2008 to 2010, when Russell Wilson played for the Wolfpack, Wentz paid attention.
Wentz continued paying attention in 2012, when Wilson was a rookie leading the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs. He watched Wilson win the Super Bowl the following year and reach the postseason in all four seasons of Wilson's career.
On Sunday, Wentz will see Wilson on the other sideline when the Eagles visit the Seahawks.
"I have a lot of respect for him and the way he came in the league right away and kind of took it by storm as a late pick," Wentz said.
Wentz wasn't a late pick, but he can relate to Wilson entering the lineup early in his career. During a week when fellow rookie Dak Prescott kept the starting job in Dallas and Jared Goff earned a promotion to starter in Los Angeles, Wentz might have his most challenging game yet in his young career. The Seahawks are undefeated at home and come with a top 10 defense that has been the NFL's best in recent seasons.
"They are fast. They fly around. Richard Sherman is a great lockdown corner," Wentz said. "Earl Thomas, that guy can cover ground. . . . [Kam] Chancellor, down in the box, he does some real good things. [They have] a combination of a lot of guys who can make plays."
For most teams, a visit to Seattle would include analysis about how Sherman can disrupt the offense. This week, that doesn't seem to be much of a problem. And it has nothing to do with Sherman, who is one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL. But it doesn't take an elite cornerback to slow down one of the outside receivers for the Eagles. Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham have been non-factors in recent weeks. Agholor hasn't topped 50 receiving yards since Week 1. Green-Beckham hasn't caught a pass in the last two games.
Going into the game against the Seahawks, Wentz's focus in the passing game includes the options in the middle of the field - slot receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz - and Darren Sproles out of the backfield. Matthews missed practice on Wednesday with back spasms, and Ertz was limited with a hamstring injury. Both are expected to play Sunday, so Wentz will need to challenge the middle of the field against the Seahawks.
The receiving options will improve with time. When Wilson was a rookie in 2012, the Seahawks did not have a 1,000-yard receiver or a player with more than 50 catches. Matthews already has 48 catches this year and could reach 1,000 yards.
But Wilson thrived early in his career by spreading the ball around, relying on a strong running game - and running himself - and limiting turnovers. Wilson, who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, averaged 607.5 yards per season in his first four years in the league. He has only 60 rushing yards this season because of an injured knee. But he's also a proficient passer and uses his legs to buy time in the backfield.
That is a part of Wilson's game that Wentz can emulate. Wentz's athletic ability is one of his qualities, although he's had limited success running this season. However, he's been able to create unscripted plays. Coach Doug Pederson wants Wentz to understand the fine line between keeping his eyes downfield and tucking the ball away for extra yards.
"I always talk to him about being a thrower first but don't throw first and use your eyes in those situations," Pederson said. "You can scramble and still keep your eyes downfield. . . . He understands, too, and we understand that any time a team gives you some man coverage or voids zones, and you have the ability to scramble, even if it's not for a first down, but it's picking up, five, six, seven yards and protect yourself, those are things that defenses get a little frustrated at when your quarterback is mobile that way."
Pederson's answer reveals one reason why he was smitten with Wilson leading up to the 2012 draft. Pederson visited Wilson that spring and left thinking, "This guy is a special kid."
"The things that you see on the field are also the things he does off the field," Pederson said. "I came away feeling like, if we didn't have an opportunity to take him, somebody was going to have a special player."
The Eagles were interested in Wilson that spring, but they waited until the third round to draft a quarterback. Wilson went off the board 13 picks before the Eagles selected Nick Foles. After the Seahawks took Wilson, Andy Reid called a Seahawks executive to give him a hard time about the pick.
If Wilson ended up with the Eagles, Wentz might be elsewhere. But the Eagles made sure they could get Wentz, who both Wilson and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lauded on Wednesday. They will compete against Wentz for the first time on Sunday. And as Carroll experienced with Wilson in 2012, a rookie can have a success from Day 1 in today's NFL.
"It's not the game that has changed. It's that coaching has changed to the point where kids are raised differently," Carroll said. "The guys are just way ahead. . . . They're just precocious. They're just coming along much better prepared than they were in earlier years. You're seeing it exactly with Carson."