May 21, 2019
Carson Wentz was all smiles on Tuesday when the Eagles OTAs opened up down at the NovaCare Complex. And why wouldn't he be?
The Eagles quarterback, entering his fourth NFL season, is finally back to 100 percent and has been cleared to fully participate in practice after injuries ended each of his previous two seasons. Not only was Wentz free of the pain caused by last year's stress fracture in his back, but he was also free of the knee brace he'd been wearing since returning from ACL surgery, surgery that caused him to be sidelined for the Birds' 2017-18 Super Bowl run.
The brace, according to Wentz, is gone for good, as he plans to go without it on game days this season.
On top of his health — not to mention a new diet and exercise routine, of which he refused to reveal any specifics — Wentz has a few new toys to play with this offseason, most notably speedy wideout DeSean Jackson, who spent the first six seasons of his NFL career in Philadelphia.
On Tuesday, we got our first look at the duo in action.
And although it's only May, the 26-year-old quarterback expects some big things from him and Jackson this season.
"He's awesome. So far, he's been a great teammate — just comes in and works hard," Wentz told reporters. "Obviously, I learned that he's pretty fast. He's a pretty smooth runner. People might say he's getting up there in age, but he can still go. I'm excited to just keep building that chemistry with him, both on the field and off the field. He's a great teammate, and I think we're going to do something special with him."
Obviously, it's no secret what Jackson's role in the offense will be: stretching the field. A deep threat is something the Eagles have been lacking in recent seasons, especially last year after the departure of Torrey Smith. And even though, at 32, he's not as young as he once was, Jackson can still fly. If you need a reminder, just look back to the first play from last year's game between the Bucs and the Eagles.
Jackson finished the 2018 season with just 41 catches, the second fewest of his career, and just four touchdowns, a far cry from his numbers when he last played in Philadelphia in 2013, but some of that can be chalked up to inconsistent quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. Despite that, Jackson led the league in yards per reception (18.9) for the fourth time in his career and the third time in the last five seasons.
And while he likely won't be Wentz's most-targeted receiver, he could wind up being his favorite for not only what he can do with the ball (take up huge chunks of the field at a time), but what he can do without it as well (open things up for the other receivers underneath).
"It's exciting," Wentz said when asked about how Jackson changes the Birds' offense. "It's hard to really say [what impact he'll have] right now, we're just finally getting going. But again, it's just exciting, that dynamic that he can bring. I think ultimately, whether he's catching balls each game or not, I think it will open up some things underneath and he'll be a huge addition to our team."
Jackson isn't the only new target that will be joining a receivers corps already stocked with familiar faces like Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor, as well as tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The Eagles also added Stanford wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the third round of the draft, a big-bodied receiver who not only could benefit from DeSean stretching the field, but could also be another dangerous red zone weapon for Wentz.
"J.J., you know, is a bigger guy and I'm excited, especially once we get the pads on to see him really use his frame and his body. I think he'll help us in the red zone and do a lot of things really well. [He's a] hard worker, great kid. So I'm excited with him, and really all the guys. It's always good to get back out here and you see some new faces, just guys you've never worked with before, that you can kind of start to coach up and get up to speed and see what they can do to help this team."
Over the next few weeks and months, we'll likely find out.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see the kind of rapport that develops between Wentz and Jackson, and how that manifests itself on the field. Jackson hasn't had a quarterback as talented as Wentz — arguably ever — and definitely not since leaving the Eagles. And Wentz hasn't had a wideout with the specific skillset Jackson brings to the table.
It could, indeed, be the beginning of something special.
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