Carson Wentz comfortable as Eagles leader | Jeff McLane
The second-year quarterback has bonded with his teammates entering his second training camp.
Carson Wentz likes to grill.
When the Eagles quarterback hosted his offensive linemen at his expansive South Jersey property in April, he didn't hire a caterer or a cook. Wentz tenderized the rib eyes and strip steaks himself and manned the grill for what had to be a feast considering the sizes of the guests.
"They were delicious," center Jason Kelce said.
Wentz had invited his blockers for a reason. They were to shoot the shotguns the quarterback had gifted them at the end of last season. There's the adage that if you take care of your offensive linemen, they in turn will take care of you. And Wentz's cooking, along with the Silver Pigeon Berettas, suggested that Wentz heeded those words.
But they gathered also in the name of camaraderie. And Wentz's hands-on, minimalist grilling echoed the approach he has taken to becoming a starting NFL quarterback and to the task of developing into a leader.
The concept of leadership is as nebulous as that of team chemistry and culture. If Wentz is successful on the field and winning follows, so, too, will his teammates. But there is only one position in football in which it is mandatory to lead. And there can be only one cook in that kitchen.
"As the quarterback of this team, you've got to kind of accept that role and run with it," Wentz said this spring. "I'm going to let it all happen organically and just still be myself, and it will all take care of itself."
Wentz had a similar attitude after the Eagles had named him the starter just eight days before last season. But the then-rookie had been deferential to Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel throughout that offseason, and his relative inexperience had by nature made it imprudent for him to assert much authority.
This offseason, however, Wentz has increasingly embraced that mantle, according to many of his coaches and teammates. The changes have been subtle. It is not in Wentz's nature to take what has not yet been earned.
But whether it has been breaking down team huddles, or vocalizing his offensive preferences or openly displaying more of his personality, Wentz has naturally become more of a leader. And the NovaCare Complex, at least as it relates to the team, has gradually become his building and has adopted his persona.
"He's the guy. That's the way everybody in this building sees him," tackle Lane Johnson said. "He's the franchise."
Not that Wentz would ever say that.
"That's not his personality and I don't think that you want a quarterback saying that," Kelce said last month. "But I would say that clearly there is only one person on the field that has as big of an impact to affect games.
"The quarterback position is so important in the NFL, so when you get a good one and you get a young one, everything in my mind, especially offensively, is built around that person."
The Eagles have been judicious in pushing Wentz to the fore in public. They believe they have a thoroughbred, although even a promising first season was hardly enough proof. Coach Doug Pederson had said earlier in the offseason that he wanted Wentz to return in April and accept more of a leadership role.
A month later, offensive coordinator Frank Reich had declared that the quarterback had already taken ownership of the team. While that may be an exaggeration, at least according to defensive players such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said that Wentz hasn't forced his hand on that side of the ball, he has certainly taken the offense under his wing.
In April, he had the get-together with the offensive line. And earlier this month, Wentz invited the Eagles wide receivers to his home state of North Dakota for informal workouts.
Wentz rolls with a close-knit circle of teammates who mostly share his Christian faith. The group includes receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz, linebacker Jordan Hicks, tight end Trey Burton, and safety Chris Maragos. They frequently attend Sunday services together at the Connect Church in Cherry Hill.
But Wentz's other interests, specifically the outdoors, have opened him up to other players on the team, and the gatherings he hosts at his home or the in-season dinners out that he organizes have been as inclusive as his relationships in the building.
"He treats me the same as he treats everybody else," Kelce said. "I think that's his M.O. He treats everyone with respect."
Leaders have an innate ability to relate and communicate with others despite their differences. Wentz's passions — aside, of course, from football — are his faith, the outdoors, and his love of dogs. He will often zealously promote all three on social media. When it comes to his religious beliefs, he may be as forthright as any starting quarterback since Tim Tebow.
Wentz's AO1 (Audience of One) Foundation, which focuses on his three passions by providing service dogs to Philadelphia-area youths, outdoor opportunities for the physically disabled and military veterans living in the Midwest, and assistance for underprivileged youth living abroad, is to "demonstrate the love of God," according to its initial news release earlier this month.
While many Eagles share Wentz's interests, plenty of others do not. And yet many of his teammates, when asked about the quarterback's personality, don't mention his professed passions but his everyman characteristics.
"I think the balance with Carson is that he can relate with the country boys, but he can also relate with a [Jason Peters] or a Zach Ertz, who grew up in California," guard Allen Barbre said." Different guys from different atmospheres."
It's comparatively easy to connect with the quarterback when he doesn't take advantage of built-in benefits, works as hard or even harder than everyone else, and intermingles with the rest of the team as if he were the 90th man on the roster.
"He's not a prima donna," Johnson said. "He's one of the 'bros,' so to speak."
Wentz, of course, isn't just one of the guys. The investment made to acquire him was franchise-altering, as will be the mega-contract he is likely to receive in two years. The Eagles haven't outwardly given Wentz preferential treatment, but in matters relating to football, his well-being figures prominently.
Last offseason, Pederson catered most of the offense to Sam Bradford's needs, but he still had plays that suited Wentz best. While the system would eventually morph into one that befit the latter's preferences, the Eagles were able to construct the offense this offseason strictly with Wentz in mind.
The additions in offensive personnel, specifically wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LaGarrette Blount, were made to give Wentz more weapons. But even less glamorous signings, such as bringing back quarterback Nick Foles, who has a similar temperament, were made with the 24-year-old in mind.
From moves significant to minor — such as his taking over the coveted end locker stall in the NovaCare Complex that Donovan McNabb once occupied — Wentz's welfare is always considered.
"Everything is, 'What do you prefer? What is going to make you feel more comfortable?' " Kelce said. "With even certain things like the snap count he likes. In my mind, everything I'm doing should be to make him feel more comfortable."
Wentz has been vocal about his needs, but always in the best interest of the offense, according to quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. He hasn't forced his hand in the quarterback room, just as he hasn't in being a leader.
Last September, Jenkins was adamant that Wentz needed to earn that title.
"There aren't many times when we're all together as a team, but he has, more so than last year, stepped out in front of the team when it comes to breakdowns or whatever," Jenkins said. "Even competing and running the offense, you can tell he's got a bigger role from a leadership standpoint.
"But it's still very organic. It doesn't seem like he feels the need to do it."
Jenkins and a few others are still the leaders of the defense. A quarterback can hold sway over the entire team — as Jenkins said Drew Brees did when Jenkins was with the Saints — but it must be merited.
"Drew had complete control pretty much of the whole team. If he said something to a defensive player, it was expected," Jenkins said. "But he also, over the span of his entire career, earned that respect. And that's something I think that will continue to grow with Carson.
"Sometimes I think where it doesn't come is if you feel entitled to respect because you play quarterback or you're prematurely given respect, whether it be by the coaches or whoever, and forced into a role you haven't really earned."
When Smith was drafted by the Ravens in 2011, Joe Flacco was entering his fourth season. He was "the guy," but there was still a question of whether he could win a championship. A year later, Baltimore won the Super Bowl. Smith said the seeds were sown once Flacco's confidence grew.
"I could see it and the team could sense it and feel it, as well," Smith said. "Not to put any pressure on [Wentz], but he has the same kind of vibe about him — that you feel this place is going to be successful really soon."
While he is new to the Eagles, Smith said he's felt as if he has been on the team for years partly because of Wentz's embrace. Burton recalled playing with a quarterback who had a difficult time recruiting teammates to "jump on his ship" because he "hung out with only certain people and couldn't relate to everybody."
Asked how the Eagles had begun to adopt Wentz's personality, the tight end paused and then enlisted the help of Ertz, who happened to be walking by in the locker room last month.
"He's just so much more confident. He's just taking control," Ertz said. "When in the past — that's not a knock on other quarterbacks — I don't feel like we had a quarterback here that has really taken control and made it his offense."
Added Burton: "And he's only been here for one year."
But Wentz will arrive for training camp, which opens Monday for rookies and selected veterans and Thursday for the rest of the team, under a much different guise from a year ago, when he was a third-stringer.
"I won't have to sing this training camp, so that'll be nice," Wentz said, referring to one of the hazing rituals rookies must often endure. "It'll be a world of a difference, honestly."
Beacon for his teammates
Over the last calendar year, Wentz has played in 16 NFL games, tossed 607 NFL passes, enjoyed the first extended break of his adult life, traveled to New Zealand and shot red stag, did missionary work in impoverished Haiti with Matthews, and steadily become a beacon for his teammates.
He said he plans to make the Fargo workouts with receivers an annual event. And he will continue to have parties, like the April gathering with offensive linemen, to forge bonds with his teammates.
"It was just good to get those guys out, hang out and do some things," Wentz said. "We went down the road and shot some shotguns and just really hung out, bonded. Some of the guys loved shooting the guns and did it a lot. For some guys, it was very new."
Kelce was one of the newbies.
"It was a blast," Kelce said. "That was the first time I got to shoot the gun that he bought for us."
But it was Wentz's command of the grill that inspired most.
"I went back for seconds," Kelce said.