Wentz can’t seem to stom­ach team­mate’s trash talk

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - Bob Grotz Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA >> It’s Dal­las week. The NFC East lead is at stake. There’s no bet­ter time for the Ea­gles to show unity.

Quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz had a golden op­por­tu­nity Thurs­day to stand up in sup­port of em­bat­tled team­mate Kamu GrugierHill. All Wentz had to do was ac­knowl­edge he wouldn’t have used the ver­biage Grugier-Hill did to trash the Cow­boys, who the Ea­gles op­pose Sun­day.

In­stead, Wentz switched into safe mode and dis­tanced him­self from the line­backer-turnedEa­gles fan who said the Cow­boys have a his­tory of chok­ing and would do just that Sun­day. The QB was hav­ing none of that.

“Yeah, I mean I don’t want to dive into that at all,” Wentz said. “All I know is we, and my­self per­son­ally, have a lot of re­spect for that team. A lot of re­spect for that team and what they’re do­ing this year.”

Grugier-Hill ob­vi­ously would like to have his sound bite to do over. The same with head coach Doug Ped­er­son, who spoke around it dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with Cow­boys me­dia. The truth is Grugier-Hill is a solid ci­ti­zen, a to­tal team player and ex­tremely well-liked by col­leagues in the locker room.

Ea­gles play­ers kept their sense of hu­mor through the “choke” drama. Shel­ton Gib­son, the 5-11 wide re­ceiver, hid his face in a hoodie and slipped into Grugier-Hill’s No. 54 jer­sey. Gib­son per­formed the walk of shame to Grugier-Hill’s locker after prac­tice Thurs­day, re­porters chas­ing him. Gib­son sat down with his back to the mob but couldn’t stay in char­ac­ter. He rose with the big­gest smile there was all day at the com­plex.

In an­other part of the locker room, de­fen­sive end Chris Long, the Ea­gles’ Wal­ter Pay­ton Man

of the Year nom­i­nee, got the me­dia to laugh just by sug­gest­ing of the GrugierHill com­ments, “Y’all love this, don’t you? This makes your job eas­ier.”

If Long learned one thing in a 10-year ca­reer, it’s to love your team­mate in such cir­cum­stances. He was au­then­tic and au­to­matic with his re­sponse.

“It’s not some­thing I’d say but I’ve got his back,” Long said. “It’s go­ing to be a phys­i­cal, in­tense foot­ball game. And at the end of the day that’s all it comes down to. I’ve got Kamu’s back. Ev­ery­body’s got each other’s back. That’s what a team’s about.”

Safety Mal­colm Jenk­ins was the same way. He’s with Grugier-Hill, too. And he doesn’t think the first-place Cow­boys need any more mo­ti­va­tion than to be play­ing the Ea­gles at home.

Why it’s so dif­fi­cult for Wentz to un­der­stand all of this is be­yond me. It’s not as if the Ea­gles would short­change him on his loom­ing con­tract ex­ten­sion. And what if man­age­ment did ob­ject? Wentz is the quar­ter­back, his own man.

The whole episode re­minds me of the week lead­ing up to Su­per Bowl 39 when out­spo­ken Ea­gles re­ceiver Fred­die Mitchell called out New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots safety Rod­ney Har­ri­son, say­ing, “I’ve got some­thing for you, Har­ri­son.”

Dono­van McNabb left Mitchell hang­ing. So, did many of Mitchell’s team­mates. At the end of the day, McNabb threw two in­ter­cep­tions to Har­ri­son, just one com­ple­tion to Mitchell and the Ea­gles lost, 24-21, to a very beat­able Pa­tri­ots team.

That was the last NFL ap­pear­ance for FredEx. In the NBA Fi­nals last year, he ap­plauded Lebron James for stick­ing up when then-Cleve­land Cava­liers team­mate J.R. Smith mis­tak­enly drib­bled out the clock in a tie game. The Cavs would lose in over­time to the Golden State War­riors. Mitchell’s tweet: “I gotta re­spect @KingJames for stand­ing up for his team­mate. McNabb would never do that for me.”

If the Ea­gles lose Sun­day, crit­ics will blame it on Grugier-Hill for in­cit­ing the Cow­boys. If the Ea­gles win, it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be be­cause Grugier-Hill con­trib­uted three pick-sixes. The teams are too evenly matched.

Too of­ten, pro­fes­sional ath­letes think they should san­i­tize what they say pub­licly out of fear of coaches or man­age­ment. The con­fi­dent pay­ers roll with their in­stincts, and that would be the very peo­ple they’ve worked so hard with to get to where they are.

Wentz showed courage in his sec­ond sea­son with the Ea­gles, when good friend Jor­dan Matthews was dealt to the Buf­falo Bills for cor­ner­back Ron­ald Darby. Wentz even spoke up at an un­sched­uled avail­abil­ity.

“It’s one of those things where there’s the per­sonal side of things and the foot­ball side of things,” Wentz said at the time. “The foot­ball side of things, you’ve just got to trust what they’re do­ing up­stairs. Ul­ti­mately, they’re the ones that make those de­ci­sions and what they think is best for the team, I’m go­ing to be in sup­port of 100 per­cent. They haven’t let me down or this team down yet. But on a per­sonal side, it’s tough. This is my first time ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing like this with some­one who’s one of my best friends.”

Here’s hop­ing Wentz gets to that place again.

If you’re the un­equiv­o­cal leader of the team, the guy who’s go­ing to lead the squad to where it wants to go, you can do bet­ter than this:

“I just want to say per­son­ally,” Wentz said of the Cow­boys, “and as a team we have a lot of re­spect for them and we’re ex­cited for this one.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Ea­gles line­backer Kamu Grugier-Hill, here de­fend­ing Gi­ants re­ceiver Ster­ling Shep­ard in a game Nov. 25, did plenty of talk­ing Wed­nes­day about the Cow­boys and their propen­sity for ‘chok­ing.’

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