The Big Next Step for quarterback Carson Wentz is here, and with the first-day-of-school-feel around the NovaCare Complex on Monday as the players reported for the open of the Eagles' voluntary offseason conditioning program, well, it's hard not to be excited.
In fact, "excited" is a word that Wentz used early and often in his press conference, something that should make every Eagles fan, um, you know. It's that time of the year. Hope springs eternal.
And that's especially the case for the Eagles, buoyed by the two wins to end 2016, the season-long development of Wentz, the franchise quarterback, and the first steps in this offseason that have produced some significant additions, among them wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, offensive lineman Chance Warmack, and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan.
"Any time you can add players like that that you think can really help the team, that creates a lot of buzz, a lot of interest," Wentz said. "There's a lot of excitement in that locker room."
Wentz is refreshed and ready to attack his second NFL season. He started 16 games as a rookie, threw a franchise-record 607 passes – completing an NFL rookie-record 379 passes – and stayed strong in a roller-coaster of a season for the Eagles. Wentz suffered no physical breakdowns in his first year and emerged ready to take that crucial next step.
What, then, is the next step? How much of a jump will Wentz take in a league where, typically, the leap from Year 1 to Year 2 is significant and sets the table for the remainder of a player's career?
"The sky is the limit for Carson," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He's got the right kind of makeup to have great success in this league for a long time. You always wonder if a player is going to believe the hype around him, but with Carson he's just not that kind of guy. He is isolated from all of that.
"Carson just wants to be a great quarterback, a great teammate, and he wants to bring a championship to Philadelphia. That's what he is all about. All the other stuff really doesn't matter to him."
With that, there are a lot of steps to be taken to get to the Lombardi Trophy level for Wentz and the Eagles. We all know that. We know the Eagles need to hit it big in the draft to follow up on the on-paper success they've had in free agency. One of the priorities of this offseason is to "put players around Carson" and the Eagles have succeeded in doing that with Jeffery and Smith at wide receiver and with Warmack along the offensive line.
For Wentz's part, the progress he's going to make in the coming months is mostly going to be mental. He'll continue to master the nuances of this offense and the subtleties of studying opposing defensive schemes and tendencies. On the field, Wentz is working on smoothing out some of his mechanics – not even close to any kind of overhaul – and creating chemistry and timing with his receiving corps.
"I'm excited about the mental side of things, being comfortable in the environment, what to expect, the playbook, and being able to take that knowledge to the next level. I'm just really excited to make that jump and get to work here," Wentz said. "I've always held myself to high expectations and last year we finished 7-9 and that's not good enough. That's never going to be good enough for anybody in this building. I fully expect us to all make strides and hopefully be playing into January."
Wentz pointed to being more consistent in every part of his game, including accuracy, as his primary get-better goal. The Eagles want Wentz to raise his completion percentage to 65 percent in 2017, up from 62.4 percent last year. Having Jeffery and his huge catch radius will help. Smith's over-the-top speed is something the Eagles didn't have last season. The Eagles have depth in talent along the offensive line.
So, the signs are pointing in the right direction.
"A lot of it is natural with someone like Carson," quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. "He's got a combination of talent and the desire to be the best. He picks things up so quickly. He's very hard on his self. Carson loves to compete, loves to push himself to be the best. He embraces work and the challenge of playing at a very, very high level in the NFL."
It felt on Monday like the 2017 season truly began for the Eagles. Head coach Doug Pederson and his staff aren't yet permitted to do on-field work with the players, so we don't have any Wentz-to-Jeffery bromances to discuss just yet. It was just great to see the team together for the first time, with Wentz leading the way as the face of the franchise.
A year ago Wentz was exhausted, drained, in the middle of a job-interview-every-day cadence as he prepared for the NFL Draft. Once Wentz became an Eagle, the brain drain didn't ease. Every day felt like catch-up time for Wentz, who was thrown into the starting fray eight days before the opener against Cleveland.
Wentz has been off since January 2 and he returned to the NovaCare Complex on Monday a totally different guy in a lot of ways. He's a season older and wiser. He has the locker room and everyone in the organization believing in him. We saw Wentz and his enormous ability last year.
The best is yet to come, and Wentz is prepared.
"As the quarterback of this team, you have to accept that role and run with it," Wentz said. "I'm going to let it all happen organically and still be myself. It will all just take care of itself."