Bal­ti­more’s Flacco shares sim­i­lar back­ground with Ea­gles rookie Wentz

Cecil Whig - - A••END A FREE - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

— There have only been six non-FBS quar­ter­backs se­lected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1978, and two of them will share the same field this week­end.

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, se­lected from Univer­sity of Delaware in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and Philadel­phia Ea­gles rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz, picked sec­ond over­all this past April from North Dakota State, will both be un­der cen­ter Sunday when their re­spec­tive teams clash at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

Wentz is the first quar­ter­back from a non-FBS school taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since Flacco. Steve McNair (Al­corn State) in 1995, Ken O’Brien (UC Davis) in 1983, Phil Simms (More­head State) in 1979 and Doug Wil­liams (Gram­bling) in 1978 are the only other sig­nal call­ers taken the first round from lower-level col­le­giate pro­grams.

Four of those five quar­ter­backs prior to Wentz went on to play in the Su­per Bowl, while Flacco (XLVII), Simms (XXI) and Wil­liams (XXII) all earned Su­per Bowl MVPs.

“There’s been guys [who came be­fore me from small schools] and you al­ways look around the league at guys, at small school guys, and you have a lit­tle bit of a con­nec­tion to them,” Flacco said. “I’ve al­ways said when you’re play­ing, it’s all rel­a­tive. I wasn’t play­ing at Delaware … with USC wide re­ceivers. We had good wide

OWINGS MILLS

re­ceivers but at the same time it’s all com­ing down to the [de­fen­sive backs] who we’re go­ing against, the re­ceivers we’re play­ing with and all of that. Ev­ery once in a while you get a guy who has the abil­ity to play wide re­ceiver, has the abil­ity to play quar­ter­back and has the phys­i­cal strengths to [jump to the NFL].”

Flacco moved to the NFL af­ter lead­ing the Blue Hens to the 2007 NCAA Divi­sion I FCS foot­ball cham­pi­onship game as a se­nior.

“A lot of times, when you’re down at that level, guys can play foot­ball, they just don’t run 4.3 [-sec­ond 40-yard dashes]. You see a lot of guys that play re­ally good foot­ball and ev­ery now and then you get a guy that can re­ally play good foot­ball and he has in­tan­gi­bles that are there,” Flacco said. “As a quar­ter­back, you’re still throw­ing into the same win­dows, you’re still mak- ing the same reads, you’re still do­ing all those things. So if you get a guy who can do that but he also feels like he has the phys­i­cal traits to play in this league, then I think the jump isn’t any big­ger than [from FBS schools].”

Flacco, who started ev­ery game for the Ravens as a rookie, won 11 reg­u­lar-sea­son games his first year in the NFL and helped guide Bal­ti­more to the AFC cham­pi­onship game. Along the way, he be­came the first rookie in league his­tory to win two road play­off games.

“I think ev­ery guy is dif­fer­ent com­ing in, and ev­ery guys has their own back­ground and their own thing. But hav­ing a guy that’s come from that level and to go in the way he did and have the suc­cess early, I think it just made peo­ple be­lieve that it could be done again,” Wentz said. “I think he set the bar—set the stan- dard for that, at least in re­cent times. For me, I think that was huge. I think it was huge that teams would go and look at him as an ex­am­ple and go, ‘ There’s no rea­son this guy can can’t get it done, too’ [I have] a lot of re­spect for what he’s done and what he’s con­tin­u­ing to do.”

Draft an­a­lysts be­gan com­par­ing Wentz to Flacco be­fore the Ea­gles rookie even took one snap in the NFL.

“It is hard to re­mem­ber. But I know a lot of me­dia peo­ple asked sim­i­lar ques­tions … and how that af­fected me. I think some guys would bring his name up, and I just al­ways pointed like, “He went and did it. He went and did it right away,’” Wentz said of Flacco. “Again, ev­ery­body is dif­fer­ent, but I think he has shown that it can be done.”

Wentz earned his way to the NFL af­ter lead­ing North Dakota State to back-to­back NCAA Divi­sion I-FCS Na­tional Cham­pi­onships.

“The jump [to the NFL] is a big jump no mat­ter where you’re com­ing from—Divi­sion III, FCS, FBS, SEC—it does not mat­ter. Ev­ery­one is big­ger, faster, stronger [in the NFL]. Ob­vi­ously, we be­lieve at the FCS level that there is a lot of good tal­ent, and you are play­ing a lot of good com­pe­ti­tion. I think they just lack the depth over­all that a lot of FBS teams have,” Wentz said. “But at the same time, ev­ery­body is dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery­one is play­ing at a dif­fer­ent level, ev­ery­one learns at a faster pace and dif­fer­ent paces. Ev­ery­body is dif­fer­ent. I didn’t re­ally use that as an ex­cuse; I ac­tu­aly used that more as mo­ti­va­tion. I thought what I did in col­lege, in terms of run­ning the of­fense and the pro­tec­tion calls and the run checks and be­ing un­der cen­ter—all of those things—were in my fa­vor, ac­tu­ally, go­ing for­ward.”

Wentz, like Flacco, has started ev­ery game dur­ing his rookie sea­son. Af­ter open­ing the year with three­straight wins, Philadel­phia has lost eight of their last 10 games.

The Ea­gles’ rookie quar­ter­back en­ters Sunday hav­ing com­pleted 317 passes for 3,215 yards, 13 touch­downs and 12 in­ter­cep­tions.

“First of all, you’re al­ways learn­ing. If I were to sit here and say I think I have it all clicked, that would be ridicu­lous. You’re al­ways learn­ing,” Wentz said. “I’ve never used, even in Week 1, the ‘rookie ex­cuse,’ be­cause I’ve al­ways held my­self to high ex­pec­ta­tions—high stan­dards. Thats’s part of it, but I never fell in that cat­e­gory as, ‘Oh, I’m a rookie. I have a long way to go.’ But at the same time, you’re al­ways learn­ing. There are al­ways things to learn.”

Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

COUR­TESY: DELAWARE ATH­LET­ICS

Se­nior quar­ter­back Joe Flacco (5) cel­e­brates with a team­mate fol­low­ing Univer­sity of Delaware’s vic­tory over South­ern Illi­nois that sent the Blue Hens to the NCAA Divi­sion I FCS foot­ball cham­pi­onship. Four months later, the Bal­ti­more Ravens se­lected Flacco with the 18th-over­all pick in the NFL Draft.

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