ANAHEIM, California — The first chapter in what could develop into a legendary rivalry will take place Sunday at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
The Eagles-Rams game marks the first meeting between standout quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who were the top two picks in the 2016 NFL draft.
“I think it’s exciting anytime two young quarterbacks like us face off,” Wentz said Wednesday before practice at Angels Stadium. “We got to know each other (during the predraft process). Jared’s a good dude.”
Wentz and Goff are represented by the same agency, Los Angeles-based Rep1 Sports, and worked out together prior to the 2016 draft.
Both quarterbacks admitted there was a time when there was a possibility they would wind up with different teams.
Goff found out the Rams had traded up to get the No. 1 pick while he was visiting with Eagles coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
“I really did like their staff and everything they do offensively,” Goff said Wednesday during a conference call. “It’s just the way everything worked out.”
The speculation was that the Rams were going to take Goff, a former standout at the University of California, with the top pick, but no one knew for sure.
That included Wentz, who showed up for the draft in Chicago still unsure about where he would be starting his NFL career.
“There were a lot of crazy scenarios floating around back then,” Wentz said. “But obviously I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I just felt a great connection with this coaching staff. And with the city (Philadelphia) being so blue-collar and workmanlike. I liked everything about it. But I think it worked out great for the both of us.”
Things didn’t seem so great initially for the Rams.
Goff struggled at the outset under then-coach Jeff Fisher and lost the starting job to current Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. Meanwhile, Wentz was named the starter just before the season began after the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings.
The gap between the two quarterbacks has narrowed dramatically this year, however.
Under the guidance of new coach Sean McVay, Goff has flourished. He enters Sunday’s game with 20 touchdown passes against six interceptions, while leading the Rams to a 9-3 record and first place in the NFC West.
“I didn’t know a lot about Jared until I interviewed for the job,” McVay said Wednesday in a conference call. “I knew he was smart, but I wasn’t sure about transferring that knowledge from the classroom to the grass.
“He’s done a great job. What people don’t realize about him is his mental toughness. He never loses his composure. Whether we’re going through adversity or having success, he takes it all in stride.”
Wentz has also continued to make impressive strides.
After a solid rookie season, he’s emerged as a candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player. Wentz enters Sunday’s game with a NFL-leading 29 touchdown passes against six interceptions and has also shown the ability to make plays with his legs.
“You see a lot of the same characteristics in the two quarterbacks,” Pederson said Wednesday. “Obviously, both have size, strength and athleticism. Both have great IQs, football intelligence.
“I also think in both cases it just comes down to having really good coaching around each quarterback. You can see the growth both Jared and Carson have made over the course of the past year.”
Because both have enjoyed success, Sunday’s game is being billed as a matchup between quarterbacks.
Both Wentz and Goff, however, are trying not to get caught up in the hype.
“It’s a really fun storyline,” Goff said. “But that stuff isn’t part of my thought process this week. I’m more focused on trying to win the game and I’m sure he feels the same way.”
Notes: Pederson said tight end Zach Ertz is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, but will not need extensive practice time to play Sunday because of his familiarity with the offense and his rapport with Wentz.