One thing that came out of the Eagles’ only open practice on Sunday night was that the Carson Wentz bandwagon is back and rolling in high gear.
More than 40,000 fans chanted his name throughout the spirited practice, but reached fever pitch as the franchise quarterback signed Eagles shirts, hats, programs and footballs for members of Eagles Nation as he made his way across the stadium wall, headed to the tunnel and the locker room.
There was no way he was going to get to everyone, but he tried.
It was clear though, Carson City, Wentzylvania was back on the map.
The night was a fundraiser for the Birds’ favorite cause, the Eagles Autism Challenge.
Fans coming to the game were asked to pay $10 admission that would go toward that charity.
Don Smolenski, Eagles president, talked about how much the evening’s practice was able to raise.
“We have incredible fans and are excited to have their support as we honor the men and women in uniform while also raising more than $475,000 for cutting-edge autism research.”
Wentz did not speak after the scrimmage or on Monday. His teammates did.
Second-year tight end Dallas Goedert is having a great camp and is poised to take that leap to stardom. He was asked about how much better Wentz has looked this training camp compared to last season.
The former South Dakota State standout’s eyes lit up as he went to answer the question.
“I don’t know. Since I’ve been here, Carson’s been the best quarterback I’ve ever seen,” Goedert said. “He’s always looked good. But yeah, he looks great this year. He’s firing the ball in there, on time with everything. He’s looking really good.”
Another second-year player, running back Josh Adams, was asked the same question. He said, last year, he was too busy to worry about which quarterback was playing better than the other. Adams said he was just trying to make the team as a rookie free agent.
This year, he says, he is seeing things much better. The game slowing down for him, he said he is able to appreciate what kind player and leader Wentz is.
“This year, coming in knowing what to expect and seeing guys lead like Carson,” Adams said. “It’s always great to have your leader step up and being the one pushing the intensity, getting everybody else to play at their high speed and high tempo. It’s awesome, just being able to see where you can go with your game, having guys like that lead.”
Adams, who played his high school football at Central Bucks South in Warrington, was pressed into duty last year as injuries depleted the Birds’ running back corps almost completely. The 22-year-old talked about getting to play at the Linc in front a raucous but friendly crowd.
“I thought it was fun,” said Adams, who last season led the Eagles in rushing with 511 yards on 120 carries. “Obviously, our first time in front of our fans since the season, so it’s always nice to get back out there and reconnect with the fans and the foundation of this football team and that support us. So it’s always good to not only get our work in but at the same time show a little love to the fans and vice-versa, them showing love to us.”
Goedert said he, too, was feeling the love at the Linc.
“It was a blast,” Goedert said. “Credit to the fans out there, making it fun for us. It didn’t really feel like a practice. It was like being a kid in a candy store. People cheering, doing stuff, playing football, which is what I love to do.”
Two Super Bowl veterans, Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and all-pro tackle Lane Johnson, talked about taking in the crowd and the military personnel on the field, who were being honored by the Eagles.
“What we do is just a game,” Ertz said. “Seeing the military members line up on the sideline for warmups puts everything in perspective for us.”
Johnson was asked how it felt seeing so many in military uniforms out on the field before and after the practice.
“It means everything to me,” Johnson said. “Actually, there is a guy in my family now who was in the Marine Corps for six, seven years…he did a few tours over there (Middle East). Everything they do, the sacrifices they make for us, we’ve got it easy compared to what we do, so I am very grateful.”
Johnson talked about the night being a hard practice, but being a positive workout in several ways.
“We got some good work in, we’ve been going and grinding,” Johnson said. “It’s been the grinding-est training camp, and that’s a good thing. It’s getting us ready for the preseason games and the first game. It’s a process like everything else. It takes time, but it was a good one today.”
Johnson continued, talking about the crowd.
“That’s the thing, you try to simulate a game,” Johnson said. “You want that game-time energy, and that’s what we got tonight. It was spirited, it was good. It’s what you need. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a game. It’s what we needed.”
Ertz said it never gets old for him. He said he has come to appreciate everything he has been given: talent, success and a championship with a franchise that is widely considered one of the best-run in sports.
“Being out here on a Sunday night, probably 10 p.m. now, seeing all these fans out here, lining the walls, there’s no better place in the NFL to play,” Ertz said. “It’s just as simple as that, in my opinion. It’s so much fun out here. It is something I’ll never take for granted.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii.