Most giant leaps in the NFL begin with baby steps, and former Northwestern University quarterback Clayton Thorson seems to understand that dynamic in his first few days as a professional after the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the fifth round of last month’s NFL draft.
Friday, after his first practice of rookie camp, he talked about the introductory process.
“There was a good-size install for a rookie minicamp,” he said. “So they’re just trying to get us ready for OTAs and getting integrated with the veterans. It was a good size but not as much as a regular install with the vets. But it’s a lot to chew on and get a base for the offense.”
The challenge for coach Doug Pederson and his staff is to keep Thorson and the rest of the rookies engaged without feeling overwhelmed, which stunts growth more than any other factor.
So there was a basic package of drills and plays on this first weekend. Nothing too complicated, yet more than enough to study and digest.
“When (rookie QBs) get in here, really obviously (we look at) how they command the huddle, see that confidence that exudes, how well they spit out the verbiage, the terminology, how well they pick that up,” Pederson said. “There’s going to be mistakes. That’s part of this weekend.
“We try to throw different concepts at them and see how well they can handle that as a young quarterback and sort of introduce them to what it’s like, whether it’s a regular-season install or a training-camp install, and then physically see them out on the field. You just don’t want to bog them down, because then they can’t go play and be free and relaxed in practice.”
For Thorson, there’s another potential complication.
Coming off four straight years as a starter, he suddenly was thrust into a situation in which he’s competing to be a No. 3 quarterback at best — behind starter Carson Wentz and backup Nate Sudfeld.
And that’s before learning that the Eagles added veteran free-agent quarterback Cody Kessler.
Because he’s been expecting to move to the back of the line for some time, Thorson is taking this adjustment in stride as well.
“I just viewed it as a great opportunity to learn from those guys,” Thorson said. “I mean, they’ve been here for a while. You know, Carson’s the guy, and so to learn about this offense from a guy who’s an MVP candidate every year is such a good opportunity for me, so I’m really just looking forward to that ... especially in this setting to kind of try to exert that leadership, so to speak.
“I think any time you can make your teammates better, that’s what you’ve got to do, and and that’s what I’m going to do.”
To that end, Thorson is not forcing anything. In the small portion of practice that was open to reporters on Friday, Thorson displayed some of the things that made him so appealing to the Eagles.
His feet were calm and his arm was live.
He threw with an economy of motion, without labor.
Kessler spent last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars and was one of the quarterbacks they released after signing former Eagle Nick Foles. A third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he has completed 64.2 percent of his passes (224-for-349) for 2,215 yards and eight touchdowns against five interceptions in his brief career.
His addition actually could mean that Sudfeld drops to third in the pecking order in that room.
None of that should change Thorson’s approach, however. He just needs to focus on what’s in front of him, which is plenty.
Having a head coach who played the position will help with that, according to Thorson. In fact, he pointed out, it was evident on the first day.
“You’re sitting on the field today and obviously (offensive coordinator) Mike Groh is calling the plays out there to us,” Thorson said, “and we’re going in there, trying to make a read. And you come in and Coach Pederson is right there, saying ‘hey, think about this, think about that.’ So it’s really valuable, because he knows what he’s doing, obviously, but he’s played the position, which is huge.”
Thorson has to balance the thrill of it all with concentration.
“To be out there is really a dream come true, but at the same time, you know I’ve kind of boiled it down to, ‘this what I’ve got to do in this drill and this drill.’ And so ... you’ve got to perform. It was really just exciting to get out there and getting chemistry with different guys.”