Carson Wentz, Commanders learning and growing quickly over OTAs

ASHBURN — Carson Wentz tends to mumble.

Ron Rivera recalled seeing the Commanders quarterback mutter something underneath his breath and wondering if the comment was directed for him. But upon closer examination, the coach said he quickly realized that Wentz was just talking out loud to himself. That’s the way the quarterback processes plays — good or bad — as they happen.

“One of the things that’s interesting is how hard he is on himself,” Rivera said, “and you do kind of see it.”

Rivera spent hours researching Wentz before acquiring him from the Indianapolis Colts earlier this offseason. But what’s become clear over the first few months of their partnership is that Wentz and the Commanders are still getting to know each other. Mumbles and all. 

So far, though, there don’t seem to be any complaints. Teammates have consistently praised Wentz’s command — excuse the pun — of the offense. Wentz, likewise, is just as complimentary and seems to be establishing chemistry with a variety of players, perhaps most notably first-round wideout Jahan Dotson.  

Offseason workouts always seem to be a source of eternal optimism. But after how poorly Wentz’s time with the Eagles and Colts ended, the Commanders are a chance for the quarterback to reset. And Wentz has appeared to be at ease, though that he may attribute to being at a different stage of his life.

“I got two kids, everything’s changed,” Wentz said. “You mature a little bit, you see the world a little bit differently. I’ve been on, this is my third team, all those things. So, you kind of see a different perspective. It’s been fun.  

“At the same time, an older guy in the locker room, coming in and getting to know guys. There’s guys that were born in the 2000s all of a sudden making me feel old. … Hopefully, as a leader and a veteran in that locker room, I can help kind of lead them and bring them along. I’m excited for it and it’s been a lot of fun.” 

In practice, Wentz has displayed the arm strength that wowed coaches, players and analysts in the early stages of his career. Even now at 29, Wentz is coming off one of the best seasons of his career when it comes to attacking down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Wentz completed 25 of 59 pass attempts of at least 20 yards for 842 yards. That ranked 13th leaguewide. 

Wentz cautioned reading too much into those numbers as the Colts run an entirely different scheme than the Commanders. But Rivera and Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner have both emphasized that Wentz’s presence will allow them to push the ball and be more aggressive. By comparison, Taylor Heinicke, last year’s starter, was 22 of 67 on those same types of deep shots.

Turner already likes to be aggressive. Wentz, in theory, should help Washington be more successful when being aggressive.

“I just want him to be himself,” Turner said. 

As much as Washington may provide a fresh start for Wentz, there are plenty of reminders of the past — and what the present opportunity means for his football future. Last month, ESPN’s Troy Aikman noted on a conference call that the Commanders are Wentz’s last chance to “prove he can be a capable franchise quarterback in the NFL.” 

Wentz, after all, had a disastrous 2020 with the Eagles and his poor play down the stretch helped prevent Indianapolis from reaching the playoffs last season. If Wentz fails to pan out, the Commanders can easily move on as the former No. 2 overall pick has no more guaranteed money left on his contract after this year.

But standing at a lectern Wednesday, Wentz — who often says he pays no attention to comments made in the media — said he wasn’t even aware of Aikman’s remark. Asked if he agreed with it, the quarterback said he doesn’t try to put that sort of pressure on himself.

He said that, perhaps fittingly, wearing a Ted Lasso-inspired shirt with the word “BELIEVE” stretched across it. In the comedy, Lasso — an optimistic former American football coach hired to coach soccer players in London — and his players tap a sign with the word before taking the pitch.

“I’m just excited to be here playing this game,” Wentz said. 

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