Thursday marks the grand unveiling of NFL action for the Eagles' rookies, as the team welcomes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Lincoln Financial Field (7 PM on Comcast SportsNet, SportsRadio 94WIP) for the preseason opener. The rookie class, headed by quarterback Carson Wentz, looks forward to creating a lasting first impression in front of the fans in Philadelphia.
Wentz is scheduled to make his Eagles debut on Thursday, a moment long-awaited by the fans since he was selected with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The first-round pick referred to the preseason game as something that's been "a long time coming."
"We've been out here going against each other for quite some time now, so I'm ready to play someone else and I'm excited to play in (Lincoln Financial Field), play in front of these fans and finally get my opportunity," Wentz said.
Being a high draft pick typically comes with high expectations, and Wentz is no exception. However, the North Dakota native isn't letting the nerves get to him, despite being the Eagles' highest overall draft selection since 1999.
"I don't get real nervous with this game. It's just a game," Wentz said. "I don't sweat too much about it. I just go out and have fun with it. If anything, I'll just calm down the excitement because I'll be really excited."
It's no secret that the Eagles' practices have ratcheted up the physicality during the past week, taking on an old-school atmosphere with head coach Doug Pederson's insertion of live tackling periods. However, the quarterbacks haven't quite enjoyed the same experience. Wentz is ready to trade in his red "no contact" jersey and learn what it feels like to play against a live NFL pass rush.
"Us quarterbacks, we're just talking about that the other day, (we're) kind of ready to get hit," Wentz said. "We've been out here in practice, guys running by us, tagging us off, and then trying to react and finally to get out there and play football, real ball again - it'll be exciting."
According to head coach Doug Pederson, Wentz is scheduled to play most of the second half on Thursday, and while the quarterback wants to make a strong first impression, his main priority is to be mentally prepared.
Just a few days away from their first preseason game, the Eagles offense and defense squared off during an intense, full-pad practice.
"The biggest thing is just mentally playing faster, knowing what's going on, knowing what's happening with protections and everything. I feel like I've come a long and I'm feeling very confident with that," Wentz said. "I'm not a finished product. I'm going to keep learning, keep getting better every day, but so far I feel very comfortable with where I am.
"I'm not going to try and blow anybody away or anything. I'm just going to go play ball … and show what I can do and I think the rest will take care of itself."
While Wentz will be looking to provide a solid showing, other rookies will be fighting to prove they belong on the roster. Cornerback Aaron Grymes may be new to the NFL, but he was very successful in two seasons in the Canadian Football League. Although this will be Grymes' first time stepping onto an NFL field, he believes his experience in the CFL will bode well for him.
"There's a little bit of nerves. It's going to be my first NFL game," Grymes said. "But I've been in a preseason before (in the CFL) and I've been in a professional camp before so I kind of know how to approach the game."
Grymes is contending for a roster spot at the cornerback position on an Eagles roster loaded with bodies at the position, and he understands just how much weight his first performance holds.
"From my standpoint, I'm approaching it like a regular season game because I have to compete for a roster spot, so I don't have time to try and save myself for the first game of the season," Grymes said. "I have to go out there and give it my all like it's a real game."
Despite the added pressure, Grymes is also very excited to make his Eagles debut. He spoke highly about the fans in Canada, but acknowledged that he's heard great things about playing in Philadelphia as well.
"From what I hear, Philly is the most emotional crowd of fans you're going to get and I look forward to playing with that," he said.
Another talented rookie fighting for a spot at the same position is Jalen Mills. After getting a small taste of the Philadelphia crowd during last week's Open Practice, the green-haired corner is ready to return to Lincoln Financial Field and show the fans what he can bring between the white lines.
"First game in the Linc, the emotions are going to be high," Mills said. "I know the fans are going to be there tearing it up for us.
"I know there were probably 20,000 (fans) there at practice and I know it holds way more than that so I know it's going to be way louder, a lot more energy and I play with a lot of energy. I feed off that type of stuff."