PHILADELPHIA — Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz can’t help it.
Coaches and teammates have been preaching to him about the importance of trying to avoid big hits. But as soon as he gets outside the pocket and takes off downfield, he forgets about taking a safety-first approach.
“I need to start being more aware out there,” Wentz said Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. “It’s just one of those things where when you’re in the heat of the moment, you forget about the other stuff. I just have to keep programing myself.”
Wentz, 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, had the size and strength to overpower defenders while playing for North Dakota State University, but that’s not the case in the NFL.
During Monday’s 29-14 victory at Chicago, he took a crunching hit from Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman while angling toward the sideline. Bears outside linebacker Willie Young and defensive back Sherrick McManis also delivered hard hits.
“I didn’t cringe when I saw the film,” Wentz said. “I don’t cringe. But I did see that I need to be smarter.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been stressing that since the first preseason game.
Wentz was upended in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and later suffered two broken ribs that caused him to miss the rest of the preseason, though that hit couldn’t be avoided. Wentz was in the pocket and was wearing a flak jacket.
Once he came back, he reverted to his aggressive playing style. As a result, he got his legs taken out from under him again Monday.
“I think it’s hard to rewire him,” Pederson said Wednesday. “I think you just need to constantly keep talking with him and going back and showing him those plays on tape to just make him aware and conscious of, ‘Hey, again, as I mentioned before, you don’t need the extra yard here. It’s OK to throw the ball away. It’s OK to step out of bounds or slide.’
“You just keep showing him over and over and over again, because not only for his longevity, but obviously for the team, as well. You want to make sure that your quarterback, especially your starting quarterback, is the guy that’s protecting himself the most.”
Wentz is off to a terrific start.
According to the Eagles, he’s the first rookie quarterback in the NFL since 1970 to start and win his team’s first two games without throwing an interception. He’s attempted 71 passes without a turnover, which is the third-best, two-game start to a season by a rookie in league history. Warren Moon held the mark at 72 passes until Dallas rookie Dak Prescott broke it this season with 75 attempts without a pick.
He’s the first Eagles rookie quarterback to win two consecutive starts since Mike Boryla in 1974, according to CSNPhilly.com. Wentz will be shooting for a 3-0 start against Pittsburgh at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Wentz has gotten the Eagles to 2-0 and has done a good job of taking care of the football,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday on a conference call. “He’s certainly holding up his end of the bargain.”
No wonder Eagles fans are all wanting to board the “Wentz Wagon.”
The Eagles (2-0) will face their toughest test of the season Sunday against the Steelers (2-0).
After wins over Cleveland and Chicago, they are taking on a Steelers team that is considered among the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, had one of the best streaks by a NFL rookie in history in 2004.
After Tommy Maddox started the first two games of that season, Roethlisberger took over and promptly went 14-0. He also beat the New York Jets in the playoffs before losing the AFC championship game to New England.
The Patriots went on to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger, 34, is as big as Wentz at 6-5 and 240 pounds. Because they share the same agent (Ryan Tollner), Roethlisberger’s also been following Wentz’s progress.
“At some point, he will realize that it will be more important for him to stay on the field instead of getting that extra yard,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday in a conference call. “He’s only played two games, so he’s got a long way to go. But he’s certainly on the right track.”
Notes: Tight end Zach Ertz (displaced rib), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (broken nose, strained quadriceps), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (strained hamstring) and guard Isaac Seumalo (strained pectoral muscle) did not practice Wednesday.
Kendricks has two black eyes as the result of his collision with a Bears ball carrier Monday night.
“I made one play and my helmet came kind of loose,” Kendricks said. “And you usually don’t have a lot of time to fix that stuff between plays. On the next play, I went to make the tackle and my helmet slid down onto the bridge of my nose just as I hit the guy.”
Despite the injury Kendricks indicated that he should be able to play against the Steelers.
“There’s still some swelling there and that makes it kind of hard to breathe,” Kendricks said. “But it shouldn’t be a problem. I can just breathe out of my mouth. (The black eyes) don’t bother me. I guess I look like a real linebacker now.”