Eagles QB coach happy with Carson Wentz's progress - mostly | Jeff McLane
John DeFilippo has seen a more confident Carson Wentz this spring, but that doesn't mean everything has been easy.
Of the Eagles coaches who work closely with Carson Wentz, it was John DeFilippo who tempered expectations after the rookie quarterback got off to a torrid start last season. While Doug Pederson and Frank Reich went as far as to compare Wentz to Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly, DeFilippo, whenever he spoke publicly, cautiously lowered the bar.
Pederson may be the head coach and Reich his offensive coordinator, and both may have played quarterback in the NFL, but it is DeFilippo, as quarterbacks coach, who has spent the most time around Wentz.
Months later, DeFilippo still speaks of Wentz in conservative terms.
"No quarterback is ever a finished product - ever," he said Monday. "Every day is a new day, especially with a young quarterback. We take it day by day with him and he's going to have some good days and he's going to have some bad days.
"This year coming up - he's probably not going to play great in all 16 games . . . but I guarantee you he's going to play good in the majority of them."
DeFilippo has had Wentz to coach for two months this offseason. He said he has seen a more confident quarterback than the one who finished a promising rookie season that had its peaks and valleys. But that doesn't mean this spring has been easy. On some days, Wentz has had more errant passes than completions.
In some ways, Wentz's occasional struggles were expected. He's still tinkering with his mechanics. He's still developing chemistry with a new set of receivers. And he's still learning how to play quarterback in the NFL. Wentz is far from a finished project.
And that's OK. It is why the Eagles have had him take not only every first-team repetition but a significant amount of second-team snaps as well.
"You cannot waste plays. Every rep is just so important that you have to just [have] so much focus on every play," DeFilippo said. "And I've really challenged Carson this offseason to what we say, 'Uncover where all the bones are [buried] in every play.' "
During his parting meeting with Wentz in January, DeFilippo set offseason goals for the quarterback. Some of them had to do with his throwing mechanics and others had to do with situational decision making.
DeFilippo didn't know whether he would be back with the Eagles at the time of the meeting. Wentz's success had put him on the radar for several offensive coordinator openings and the New York Jets were the first to put in a request. But the Eagles blocked the former Radnor High player from interviewing.
Pederson and Howie Roseman initially told DeFilippo that he could entertain offers, but Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, hoping to maintain continuity, stepped in, according to several league sources. Lurie has denied that he overruled Pederson, but he did confirm that he signed off on the decision.
"I've been on both sides of that coin," DeFilippo said. "I've been told to get out of the building at some places I've been when staff are let go, and . . . when the head coach and the general manager tell you how much they value you and the work you've done, it's an honor."
DeFilippo, of course, wants to return to being a coordinator, and possibly become a head coach. He said that he was only focused on his current job, though, "and then things usually have a way of taking care of themselves."
But his future, like so many within the Eagles organization, will be tied to Wentz. And it's difficult not to imagine the 24-year-old quarterback improving in Year 2 based off his natural maturation, having his first full offseason and the additions the team made on offense.
"That's what we expect," DeFilippo said.
But Wentz and the Eagles cannot take that eventuality for granted. The term sophomore slump exists for a reason, and some quarterbacks have found it harder to encode defenses that have caught onto their tendencies.
That is why the Eagles continually fine-tune Wentz's mechanics. Much has been made of Wentz's 10-day session with quarterback guru Adam Dedeaux in February, but DeFilippo has been working on tightening up his motion from Day 1.
He has had Wentz hold the ball a little higher. He has had him take the ball back as he prepares to throw rather than dropping it. And he has widened the base of his footwork. There's always room to quicken the release and become more accurate.
"I saw a quarterback that had really taken some things to heart that he and I had talked about," DeFilippo said.
But there will be days when Wentz doesn't have his best stuff. He'll have to learn how to battle through those down moments. Having a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery should help in that regard.
"The thing that's very comforting for a quarterback," DeFilippo said, "is when a receiver has a big catching radius where you don't have to be strike-point accurate all the time."
Receivers are rarely open in the NFL. But having a target like Jeffery should allow Wentz to throw more back-shoulder, over the top and jump-ball passes.
"We always say if the cornerback or the defender's back is to us, if we see the back of his numbers - we call it 'routes on air' because obviously he can't see the football - we're going to give the receiver a chance to make a play on the ball," DeFilippo said.
Wentz has a chance to be very good. DeFilippo and the Eagles don't have to worry about him off the field in terms of character and temperament. They say he is as steady as they come. But last season was the first time he ever dealt with sustained failure. And if success isn't immediate in Year 2, as DeFilippo suggested was possible, how will Wentz react?
"Carson is the same guy every day," DeFilippo said. "That's a very unique trait for a young quarterback."