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Big Question: What's The Key To Carson Wentz's Development?


You've got questions. Our writers have the answers. Here's their analysis of how the Eagles will move on without tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks, the biggest reason for Carson Wentz's development, and the performance of Alshon Jeffery.

Dave Spadaro: It's going to take a collective effort, and that's kind of been the way the Eagles have operated all season. Halapoulivaati Vaitai isn't an untested rookie; he's had plenty of playing time in his two seasons here. He is expected to pick up and play well at left tackle. The Eagles have some questions at middle linebacker, but they've not had Jordan Hicks on the field for quite a bit of the year already, so there won't be a drastic adjustment.

The Eagles have a lot of pieces in place, and it's simply – and it's not so simple, actually – a matter of every man doing his job and trusting the player next to him. If the defensive line continues to dominate, Hicks's loss is mitigated. If Vaitai plays to his ability, the Eagles are going to be fine at left tackle.

What's been encouraging is that every corner of the roster has contributed to the success through seven games. That's the way it's going to have to continue for the Eagles to stay on the winning track.

Fran Duffy: The "Next Man Up" mentality has permeated through this team at every turn, whether it's been players stepping in for injured stars like Fletcher Cox, Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Lane Johnson, or Hicks up to this point in the season. I expect that to continue. Offensively, you have to expect Vaitai to come in and try to fill the big shoes left by Jason Peters. I thought Big V was solid against Washington and I thought he performed well after allowing an early sack against Carolina.

Chris McPherson: Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas have built a very deep roster. Quality starters are great, but the season is a battle of attrition. This team has played at one point or another without its starting left tackle, starting right tackle, dynamic all-around back, backup running back, Pro Bowl defensive tackle, starting middle linebacker, starting outside linebacker, starting safety, starting cornerback, and kicker. Yikes! No. 11 can mask a number of deficiencies, but acquiring starting-caliber talent to provide depth at key positions has been an underrated story of the season.

Fran Duffy: I think the biggest reason is the work he puts in to be great. That shows up in everything he does, but especially in key situations. Think about it. The Eagles are outstanding this year in situational football. They rank first on third down (over 50 percent conversion). They're third in red zone touchdown efficiency, where Wentz completes 65 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns, no picks, and no sacks. They're effective on opening drives. They're second in the NFL in time of possession. They've executed on two-minute drills at the end of halves. They've closed out games in the four-minute drill. They'll grind out long drives or score quickly on the big play. He's executing at such a high rate across the board when it comes to situational football, and that stems from his preparation.

Dave Spadaro: A few factors, as I see it. Everyone anticipated a jump in Year 2 as Wentz had his first full offseason to prepare. He did his work, that much is clear. Two, he's getting great coaching and there is such a connection of trust and confidence in that player/coaching staff relationship. Everyone is on the same page.

Three, getting some quality help at the skill positions and having a strong offensive line in front of him has helped Wentz's development. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, the improvement of Nelson Agholor, and the immediate contributions from Mack Hollins have given the Eagles a deep group at wide receiver. Zach Ertz and Wentz had a spring and summer to get on the same page. It's clear how much they trust each other.

Wentz is a star quarterback. He's going to improve. This is just the start.

Chris McPherson: One of the many things I respect about Wentz is that he's the ideal person to represent this franchise both on and off the field. His physical skills are still underrated, but his intangibles are off the charts. Through the roof, in fact. And that is the most difficult thing to measure in the draft process. That's where it helps to have a coaching staff like the one here in Philadelphia that is able to get to the core of a player and build such a phenomenal rapport. Then, kudos to the personnel department for building around Wentz immediately and not wasting his talent.

Dave Spadaro: So ... you expected 85 receptions, 1,400 yards, and 15 TDs? T.O. kind of stuff? That's not the way this offense is structured. The Eagles are spreading the ball around and it's working so well. Jeffery has gotten his, maybe not as much as you expected but enough to open up lanes and create favorable matchups for others in the offense. He commands the respect of the defense that they send out the best cornerback to cover him.

Sometimes, the true value doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Jeffery's numbers are decent – not great, I understand – but his presence is also opening up opportunities for others.

Fran Duffy: I don't think there's anything up with Alshon Jeffery. Watching the film, he looks exactly how he's always looked throughout his career. This offense is not going to run through him like it did in Chicago at times. His impact reaches far beyond just catches and touchdowns because his presence does help draw the opposing team's top corner at times. You have to respect Alshon's ability to win on the outside at every level of the field. He was open for a touchdown in this game against Washington, and Wentz just overshot him on what would've been a sure touchdown (and if that happened I may not be answering this question right now). His numbers may not be through the roof, but he's certainly having an impact on the offense.

Chris McPherson: I'll admit it. I expected the monster numbers seeing how Wentz and Jeffery worked together in the spring and summer. I argued that Jeffery was the most dominant player in the offseason. But here I'll credit Wentz for not feeling the need or pressure to force feed the ball to his top receiver. Lesser quarterbacks might have done that. And I'll praise Jeffery for not needing high volume to feel as if he's a part of the game plan. Jeffery has made clutch catches - the 19-yarder to set up the game-winning field goal against the Giants. But as Dave and Fran have pointed out, Jeffery's importance isn't just in the numbers.

Fran Duffy: The Eagles do like to use running backs or tight ends as chippers on their way out into their pass routes to help in protection off the edge. Will they do it more with Vaitai in the game? Perhaps, but I don't expect a wholesale change in philosophy at this stage of the season.

Dave Spadaro: Nope, I don't see it. Multiple tight ends, yes. And, yeah, maybe they will use two-back sets on occasion, but not necessarily to protect Wentz. I agree that the No. 1 priority here is to protect the franchise QB, but you can do that by employing chipping, by rolling the quarterback away from the pressure, three-step drops, etc. I don't see two-back sets being used heavily here.

Chris McPherson: Wentz's mobility will help him get out of trouble, but it will be even worse if receivers have to be taken out of the progression to fend off aggressive defenders. I think having Wendell Smallwood back is key to help out in pass protection. I have faith in Vaitai and he will need to be given the chance to sink or swim. The Eagles didn't alter things when Vaitai went in for Lane Johnson as an untested rookie last season. Vaitai took his bumps but came out a better player in the end for it. That experience will pay off starting Sunday at the Linc.

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