Carson Wentz further asserting himself as Eagles' leader in Year 2

Carson Wentz further asserting himself as Eagles' leader in Year 2

It's not like Carson Wentz wasn't a leader last year. 

He was. 

From the moment the No. overall 2 pick arrived at rookie camp in May, those leadership qualities the Eagles discovered during the pre-draft process were immediately on display. Wentz is a natural leader at a position that necessitates it. 

So in his rookie season, he led. 

"I thought that was all kind of natural, things naturally happened," Wentz said. "Yes, I was a rookie but I don't think that I was by any means quiet. I wasn't just the guy that rolled with the punches and went with it. I thought I was still doing my job as a leader as well. But the longer we're playing this game and the more experience we have, the more we can just step up our leadership as well."

If Wentz was a leader in his rookie season, he's really a leader now.  

Last year, he arrived to the Eagles' offseason after the whirlwind of the NFL draft and admitted on Tuesday that he "didn't really know where the locker room was." Hard to lead when you don't know where to get changed. 

And throughout last spring, he was the team's third-string quarterback preparing for a redshirt season until he was thrust into the starting role after the Sam Bradford trade, just a little more than a week before the start of the season. 

A year sometimes makes a huge difference. 

This year, he's the guy, the face of the franchise, the unquestioned leader of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. 

"There’s definitely a poise about him," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "You can tell it’s not like last year when he was thrust into the position. He knows his role, he knows he’s the guy, and I think there’s a sense of confidence that comes with that, a sense of poise that he handles extremely well. I’m excited to see what he does this whole offseason and what we’re going to do moving forward."

Wentz is the Eagles' leader on and off the field. He's planning on getting together with his receivers and skills position players again this summer, something he thinks will become an annual trip. 

Earlier this month, Wentz took his offensive linemen out for a day of shooting guns and eating steaks (see story). He bought his entire line shotguns last Christmas. 

It might not seem like a summer get-together or a trigger-happy trip would help the Eagles on the field, but it might. After all, the team's being closer certainly won't hurt. And Wentz, 24, is the guy facilitating all of it. 

Then there's the way Wentz leads on the field. He's always had control of the huddle, but with more time in the offense, he knows what he wants. Center Jason Kelce said the more knowledge Wentz gains of the offense, the "more comfortable (he is) voicing [his] opinion." 

"And I think that he's definitely asserting his style on the offense," Kelce said. 

For the most part, Wentz had a pretty good season as a rookie, flourishing early, hitting a long rough patch, and then finding his way out of it. He ended up throwing for 3,782 yards and set an NFL record for completions as a rookie. 

The Eagles this year, and in the foreseeable future, will go as far as Wentz leads them. 

"They say the biggest jump is from year one to year two, so him just knowing what’s coming, he looks like a vet already," offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. "Pretty extraordinary."

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

For a few weeks now, Carson Wentz has been throwing to his new weapons, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, in an attempt to grow their chemistry.

Something was different on Tuesday.

"The biggest thing is we get comfortable on air and now all of a sudden, there's a body in the way," Smith said. "It's weird. But you have to get open against somebody. Just have to knock the rust off these next few days. A lot of us have been playing long enough. We just need to be where [Wentz] expects us to be."

On Tuesday morning, the Eagles kicked off their OTAs, the voluntary practices that lead into the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. And for the first time this spring, offense and defense went head-to-head in full-team drills (see 10 observations).

It was just the latest step in the progress of building a rapport between the quarterback and his top receivers, who were added during free agency.

"I don't think it's too tough," Jeffery said. "I think it's just working each and every day. He knows what type of player I am; I know what type of player he is. It just makes it better. Just keep working."

Wentz said in addition to on-field work, he and his new receivers (and new RB LeGarrette Blount) will be looking to sneak in as much extra time together as possible. That extra time will come in the locker room, in the training room, in the film room and in the cafeteria, wherever and whenever they can.

At least now, thanks to OTAs this week, they'll have tape against the defense to look back at and use to get on the same page.

"It's a work in progress," Wentz said. "No doubt about it. It's a work in progress with guys I've been here with a year now. It's just an ongoing process. You're putting in new plays, new routes, things are always changing. So it's a process, but I feel very comfortable with them at the same time. But again, we're still just going to continually build that relationship."

While Tuesday was just the first day of practice in a long process leading up to the season, both Jeffery and Smith showed off their respective skills.

While Jeffery is quiet off the field, he already made plenty of noise in Day 1 of OTAs.

"It's been great with him," Wentz said. "He plays on time, he knows what he's doing, his catch radius is impressive. That's the first thing that jumps out at me. I'm just looking forward to continuing to build that relationship."

Jeffery is the big receiver with a huge catch radius, while Smith is the speedier receiver, even though he still has good size at 6-0, 205 pounds.

Were both their skills on display at Day 1 of OTAs?

"Definitely," cornerback Patrick Robinson said, shaking his head.

Jeffery and Smith are still the new guys in town, but they both worked with the first team on Tuesday, while Jordan Matthews played in the slot (more on him here). (Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham worked with the twos; rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson worked with the threes.)

For Matthews, playing in the slot with Jeffery and Smith outside should help him quite a bit in 2017. So the Eagles' slot receiver said he was glad to have them added to his team.

"Both of them bring a lot of production," Matthews said. "Both of them are playmakers in their own different ways. The biggest thing I like, too, is in a room full of guys, you need competition. That's going to be what elevates guys' level of play. When you bring in two guys like that, who have had production over a long period of time, and they're also willing to come out here and work during the voluntary part of the offseason, you're going to have everybody get pushed."

Matthews has spent a ton of time with Wentz over their year together and already has a great relationship and chemistry with his quarterback.

Now it's up to Jeffery and Smith to catch up. And they're off to a good start.

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past."