Spadaro: After two preseason games, there are questions, answers

Can Carson Wentz live up to his potential?

By Dave Spadaro

Carson Wentz has all the pieces around him.

He’s got the talent within him. He is surrounded by coaches who have played the quarterback position and who understand the highs and lows of the job and the enormous pressure that comes with overseeing the Philadelphia Eagles offense.

In Year 2, Wentz is ready for The Big Jump.

As the Eagles turn their attention toward the final preseason game — one that neither Wentz nor any player whom the Eagles think will step foot on the field in the regular season is likely to play — and then begin in earnest preparations for the Sept. 10 regular season opener at Washington, the stakes grow exponentially higher for Wentz, in his second season as the Eagles’ starting quarterback.

In 2016, he was a feel-good story, the big kid (6 feet 5, 240 pounds) from a small school (North Dakota State) who became the second pick in the draft and then was thrust suddenly into the role as a starting quarterback eight days before the season opened against the Cleveland Browns.

There were super-bright moments for Wentz, like when he led the Eagles to a 3–0 record in September and was named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month. And there were plenty of tough times, too, as Wentz threw interceptions and couldn’t hold leads and finished the year with 16 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a 7–9 won-loss record.

For the most part, the tough-guy mentality in this city backed off on Wentz, understanding his position, admiring his maturity, recognizing his very rare natural gifts and cutting him some slack.

That won’t be the case this season. The expectations for Wentz, and for the Eagles, are sky high.

That’s a good thing for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008 and hasn’t been in the postseason since 2013.

The Eagles are moving in the right direction with the personnel moves they’ve made, starting with the trade up to №2 in the 2016 NFL draft to get into position to take Wentz.

Now the pressure is on Wentz, and it’s going to be that way for the remainder of his career.

“It’s the nature of the position and I’m fine with that,” Wentz said. “I embrace that pressure because I put more pressure on myself than anyone else could. I want nothing more than to win the Super bowl for this franchise and for the fans. That’s what I’m here to do.”

With the additions of wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount, and with a strong offensive line and a proven offensive scheme in place, the table is set for Wentz to thrive. Now. This year. There is no more grace period.

“Everything flows with Carson. He understands the position he is in. He’s the quarterback here. He is the leader of the team. That’s what a quarterback does in this league and Carson handles all of that very well,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s still growing, that’s the thing. There is always going to be room for improvement.”

The Big Jump comes this year, from rookie to a winning, star quarterback. It’s the natural ascension for the Face of a Franchise, as Wentz is for the Eagles. The kid is all grown up, and one year later the weight of steering the Eagles back into the playoffs is resting comfortably on his broad shoulders. ••