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September 15, 2016

Blocking out praise now can only help Carson Wentz when vultures begin to circle

Eagles NFL

A few months ago, when Carson Wentz met with the Philly media for the first time after the Eagles moved up to No. 2 in order to draft the quarterback out of North Dakota State, I wrote about how the rookie had passed his first real NFL test with flying colors.

He looked comfortable. His answers seemed genuine, even if they were slightly too bland for my personal taste. And in all of his interviews since, Wentz has stayed the course.

I also wrote, in that very same story, that the tests were going to get increasingly difficult. From a third-person perspective, they seemingly have. But the relative ease with which Wentz has hurdled each of these obstacles makes it feel as though they're actually getting easier.

Preseason debut? Check. First NFL injury? Check. Starting – and winning – the opener just eight days after a trade catapulted you from third on the depth chart to first? Check. Check. And check.

Now, a new obstacle for the rookie, one that so far has been handled just as well as those that came before.

Since his impressive debut against the Browns on Sunday, it's been quite a week for the Eagles quarterback. He received high marks from teammates, coaches and pretty much everyone who watched the game, including Vice President Joe Biden. That led to a shoutout from President Barack Obama during his stop in Philly this week. And yesterday, news came down that his No. 11 jersey has been the top-seller this week, beating out guys like Tom Brady and Odell Beckham, Jr.

"Well, if they’re not talking about you, something is wrong," head coach Doug Pederson said of POTUS name-dropping his quarterback. "That's always been my philosophy. It is exciting to be mentioned that way but at the same time, listen, we're on to Chicago. It's another game week, another set of circumstances."

Wentz, however, couldn't care less. 

To him, it's all just "noise." And we're not talking about a jackhammer outside your window at five in the morning. No, we're talking about Adele reaching the crescendo in "Hello" -- or in Wentz's case, Jason Aldean singing whatever songs he sings. You know, the kind of noise that you'd think would be music to the 23-year-old's ears.

But even the greatest music can make you deaf if you listen too loudly, too often. Wentz would rather not listen to it at all.

"It goes back to kind of how I've approached this since the draft process," he said when asked about how he's handled all the aforementioned attention that's followed him since his debut. "You've just got to block out the noise, whatever that is, whether it's the media or whatever it may be. The good, the bad, whatever it may be and just focus on ball, just focus on getting better every week. Like I said, the good, bad, the indifferent, it doesn't matter. You've just got to focus and take it day by day."

But given that he played college ball at an FCS school, albeit at one of the best programs at that level, you'd think the almost unanimous praise being heaped on the young quarterback has to be validating on some level, perhaps proof that he belongs in the NFL and was worthy of what the Eagles gave up to draft him.

You'd be wrong.

"I think the win [gives me the confidence I can play at this level]," Wentz added. "That other stuff is all kind of cool and kind of exciting, but at the end of the day you just, like we just talked about, kind of isolate yourself and block it out. But the win -- and going forward getting that first start out of the way -- getting the first win out of the way definitely helps my confidence going forward."

It seems like Wentz has long had the philosophy of slipping on his metaphorical noise-canceling headphones and blocking out the masses. But having a coach like Pederson -- someone who has not only played QB in this league, and in this city specifically, but has also been around guys like Brett Favre and Dan Marino -- certainly doesn't hurt. He knows, better than almost anyone else in the locker room, just what his rookie is going through.

"He's handled [the spotlight] fine," Pederson said prior to Thursday's practice, adding that Wentz and the other QBs continue to arrive several hours early for practice. "I tell you, he and I have had conversations the last couple days and I just wanted him to be aware of just limiting the noise on the outside. Let's just focus on football.

"And that's the one thing about him and his maturity level, is how well he does balance work with some of the outside influences, whether it be the media, or autograph sales, or autograph jersey sales, or autographs and different things like that. He's handled it really well. Again, he was in here early – he and [QBs] Chase [Daniel] and Aaron [Murray] – getting on to Chicago."

Ah, yes, another test for Wentz. And this one is a double whammy. Not only is their Week 2 matchup against the Bears the first road start of his young career, but it's also his first time playing in primetime.

"It's Monday Night Football, it's a national spotlight," Pederson added. "There's more media attention. Everything about this week is different than last week. So we have to refocus. I have to refocus. The beauty of it is you get back in here this past Monday and you dive right back into football and you don't pay attention too much of all the peripheral stuff on the outside."

That right there is the key to this whole thing. Keeping yourself busy.

But has it been difficult for a guy who said the toughest road environment he's ever played in was at the University of Montana?

"Not really," Wentz said. "For me, I stay pretty focused on football and then at the end of the day you just go home and relax. You block out a lot of it -- plus, we're so busy that you don't really have time to get too caught up in a lot of that stuff."

Being able to put blinders on when things are going well is important, sure. But more than just preventing Wentz from getting a big head, this will make him better prepared for the times when the noise is more reminiscent of that early-morning jackhammer. 

Fortunately for the rookie, he'll already be at NovaCare watching film by then.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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