PHILADELPHIA -- One need only listen to sportstalk radio in Philadelphia for a few segments, twirling up and down the dial while cruising along I-95, for certain narratives to develop. Currently, there seems to be considerable hand-wringing and consternation over the state of the Eagles' revamped offense, and whether or not the right cast is in place to aid quarterback Carson Wentz's development.
There is some rancor over the lack of apparent chemistry between Wentz and new free-agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, in so much as that could possibly be displayed in two brief preseason outings for the first-team offense thus far. People remain unsure if Nelson Agholor can catch the football with consistency. There is open debate (on these airwaves; not in the Eagles' facility) about whether running back LeGarette Blount should be on the team (he will be) -- despite the fact he just signed there a few months ago -- and Tuesday afternoon's banter included whether or not the front office, which has already spent to the extremes churning over this roster the past 18 months, should try to reacquire high-priced back Shady McCoy (don't bet on it).
Pleasing the Philadelphia sports fan ain't easy -- never has been; never will be -- and there is a unique passion that comes with the professional sports scene in this city. When all of that energy is seemingly pointed in a singular direction, as it is now with expectations rising for the Eagles and the Phillies still mired in a rebuild, then the climate can ratchet up even higher. Let's just say that when the Eagles host the Dolphins Thursday night in the final preseason game in which starters will largely appear, the fine denizens of this area will be anticipating a superior showing from this offense, and barring such, the angst between now and Week 1 will only rage on.
"I think the biggest thing is how effective are we on offense," said Wentz, who flashed his elite potential throughout two days of practices with the Dolphins this week. "Are we staying ahead of the chains? Are we converting third downs? Situational football is such a huge part of this game and that's what we're all critical of. How are we doing in the red zone? How are we doing on third down? Discipline and penalties -- we've got to avoid that stuff ... We just want to be sharp with our situational football at the least."
To be fair, the first-team offense has conducted a grand total of five drives this summer, with its heaviest workload always destined for the third game. And while things weren't particularly smooth last week against Buffalo -- three straight three-and-outs before a promising drive to the Bills' 27 halted on a fumble -- the unit did march down the field for 56 yards on 10 drives in its only work in the preseason opener, with Wentz tossing a touchdown pass on the Packers.
"We need to start the game a little bit better," coach Doug Pederson said. "You'd love to see points, obviously, and score maybe a couple of times. But we just need to clean up -- we had too many penalties last week."
This is a limited sample size, to be sure, and the Eagles have been comfortable with the development of Wentz, who they moved up to acquire with the second overall pick in 2016, and his budding rapport with Jeffery and Smith throughout the offseason work. There was a steady procession of inquiries about his perceived lack of clicking with Smith and Jeffery during Tuesday's media session, alas, whereas on Monday Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler was inundated with questions from the Philly media about Jeffery, his former teammate, to the point where Cutler started to openly wonder out loud if there was something he needed to be informed of.
"You guys are worried about Alshon?" Cutler opined, eliciting some chuckles from reporters. "He's going to be fine. What's going on? Is something going on that I don't know about?"
Wentz doesn't seem overly burdened about his new receivers, either, and, in reality, if anything this has the potential to be a far superior cast around him than the ham-handed one that bogged down this offense a year ago (receiver Jordan Matthews was recently jettisoned via trade).
"It's part of the process," Wentz said. "I think our chemistry is continually coming along, and I don't think it's ever been a problem. It's going to just continue to grow; that's kind of how it works. That's kind of the nature of how it goes …
"At the end of the day, I don't know, what, I've thrown just over 10 passes in two games? (Wentz is 10 of 13 for 112 yards this preseason.) So I'm not going to be to bent out of shape over that. It's kind of one of those things where you take it as it comes."
Smith said that Wentz was a drawing consideration for him when sorting through free-agent options.
"Carson is a beast, man," Smith told me. "I knew coming here that they had stability from top to the bottom and that's something you could see, and fit right in. And I know Carson is still young and he's still growing, but to be here to help be a part of his growth as well is something that was intriguing to me."
For what it's worth, Smith's speed and ability to unlock deep corridors of the defense should be a boon (albeit he does drop the ball at times as well), and it flashed on some fade routes into the end zone in 11-on-11 drills, while Jeffery's catch radius was on full display in underneath routes in the red zone drills. While Blount has had to run the ball outside some in preseason games you could see his power when going between the tackles in drills against the Dolphins, which is more suited to what he'll be asked to do on Sundays.
"I guess the question is: should teams not try to get better in the offseason and not try to add players and talent, because it takes time to gel?" general manager Howie Roseman said. "That's what we have preseasons for, and that's why we have training camp. We know that it's a long season and coach talks about it all the time and we have to get better every day, but by the same token we think that we've improved our team. And that's what we wanted to do this offseason to help our quarterback grow. Sometimes you forget that he's only in his second season in the NFL, and this is his first training camp with the starters."
Indeed, a year ago at this time the Eagles were still wedded to Sam Bradford as the starter and Wentz was battling for backup reps after missing time with injury. Then Teddy Bridgewater suffered a career-altering injury in Vikings camp, Minnesota offered a ransom for Bradford and Wentz was suddenly starting -- and opening eyes -- in Week 1. This offseason was quite different for the youngster, who has always seemed heady and steady, mentally tough and prepared enough to withstand the rigors of playing quarterback in Philly.
"One of the things that attracted us when we traded up for him was the fact that he had tremendous leadership ability," said Roseman, one of the more aggressive GMs in the league in exploring trades, "and he was an incredibly hard worker, and you saw his ability to finally take the team over when he had been a (reserve) quarterback the entire offseason. And you can just see his leadership every day. He's got juice when he comes out to practice and walks on the field, and it's fun. It's fun to watch."
Wentz still has an endearing aw-shucks quality to him as well -- he's very well-mannered and eager to please. Few make the rounds like him after a practice, signing every autograph possible, posing for hundreds of photos (including a group photo with a family with six children, and then individual selfies with each kid as well at one point). A good kid who is well on his way, Wentz will have a nice assortment of talent around him this season for an improved Eagles team, and you can sense how much more at ease he is now compared with just a year ago.
"It's completely different," Wentz said. "Physically, last year I was beat up like you said and missing reps and everything, and mentally I'm just in a totally different place. I've talked about it a lot the last couple of weeks, just how much difference a year makes for me mentally."