Strength in numbers never a bad thing at QB
The Eagles slid a contract across a table Sunday, and Christian Hackenberg signed his autograph, speed-reading past the fine print, hoping the ink dried before it smeared.
“I assume,” the Eagles’ newest quarterback said Monday, “they signed me for a reason.”
One reason. Two maybe. Three is not out of the question. The Eagles may have signed him for reasons they are yet to know exist.
“That’s a personnel decision,” Mike Groh shrugged Monday, after rain chased a training camp practice indoors. “We’re happy that he’s here and looking forward to working with him.”
Groh coordinates the Eagles’ offense, and at some point should have some weight when the coaching-room chit-chat turns to the most important position on a football field. He was thrust into the hem-and-haw role Monday because Doug Pederson was too busy to comment, insisting on waiting until Tuesday and a previously scheduled press briefing.
Monday, theories were bumping around the News-Control Compound about why a club so deep in quarterback depth that the sitting Super Bowl MVP is likely to play only in the fourth quarter of blowouts would import a 23-year-old of some high pedigree. But Groh’s choice of the word “personnel” was a code that the Hackenberg Initiative was an executive-level concoction. And Howie Roseman’s department has been good enough in the past year-plus to have inspired that march on the Art Museum.
While the value of the quarterback, at any level, has never been a football debate, the Eagles have understood the more contemporary demand more than others: At that level, any more, a truly championship-minded operation cannot settle for one high-level quarterback, or for two. And given the Eagles’ situation, and how it has been twisting for weeks, three would not be enough.
Strength in numbers. It’s the only way to run a quarterback department. And it’s the only way the Eagles can approach at least the earliest part of the season.
Because that confetti-drop from that Minnesota dome at the end of the last Super Bowl covered some details, it was somehow lost that the Eagles won the thing on a day when Nate Sudfeld was one Nick Foles injury away from being the Birds’ quarterback. If Eagles fans were able to redirect that reality to their subconscious, it’s understandable. But how long can Roseman and Pederson take that risk?
If everything plays to form before their September 6 opener against visiting Atlanta, the Eagles will have a responsible quarterback rotation. But the chance of that is diminishing.
Though Carson Wentz, with a determination that is either admirable or reckless or both, is working hard to beat the knee-surgery system and start, it’s not yet certain if he will be the Opening Night starter.
“We’ll stick to the plan,” Groh said, “like Coach has said all along.”
Wentz looks strong in practice, running without
a limp, throwing with velocity and command. But he hasn’t been tackled since the injury that cost him the end of last season. And the Eagles have invested so much in him in draft considerations that they cannot afford to expose him to a career-threat before he is ready to be clobbered by 350-pound people.
“I think we’re really pleased where Carson is,” Groh said. “He’s right on track with everything that we’ve asked him to do. Obviously, you can see out here he’s performing well when he gets his reps.”
That should encourage the coaches and fans. But if Wentz is not ready for NFL violence in 22 days, that will leave Foles. And that would be very same Foles who recently needed time off to rest an upper-body injury. Talk is the soreness was the result of increased trainingcamp demands while Wentz is ushered back at a responsible pace.
If Wentz is not gameready for the Falcons, and if Foles is shaken up before then, the Eagles cannot be completely comfortable with Sudfeld, who twice was intercepted early in a 31-14 preseason loss to Pittsburgh. So, they need more insurance.
Enter Hackenberg, once drafted No. 51 overall by the Jets, given a $4.6 million contract and never trusted in a regular-season game. Once, though, he was a major recruit at Penn State and was comfortable enough jumping into the draft after three years. He has been viewed as a special quarterback for most of his life and, well, didn’t Foles wind through three organizations before winning a Super Bowl?
“I think you see examples of that all over the league,” Hackenberg said. “And I think that’s what’s so cool about what Nick did. I bet if you asked Nick, he had some times where he just started focusing on the little things. And eventually those little things turned into big things.”
So Hackenberg is starting over, focusing on fundamentals. If that allows his natural skill to flourish, the Eagles will have a quarterback better suited to win an important game than Sudfeld, who was being tormented by the Birds’ defense in practice Sunday. At the minimum, the former Big Ten starter is an upgrade over 6-foot-1 Joe Callahan, a Wesley College product trying to show enough value in camp to land on a practice squad.
If the market for Foles bubbles to the point where some contender suffers an injury and becomes quarterback-starved, then the Eagles could find contentment in Sudfeld and Hackenberg, in one order or the other, backing up a healing Wentz.
“I assumed they signed me for a reason,” Hackenberg said. “I really didn’t get into all that. I just showed up.”
He showed up, and because he did, the Eagles were just that much deeper in quarterback potential than they were a day before. No one knows better than the team still sweeping up that confetti that it’s impossible to be too deep in that department.