INDIANAPOLIS – No one questions what Carson Wentz brings to town.
During a casual-yet-competitive basketball knockout challenge earlier this week, Wentz’s smooth shooting stroke was on full on display even though he came up short against Mo Alie-Cox.
“He can shoot,’’ Zach Pascal said. “Pretty athletic. I’m sure everybody knows that, but he’s super athletic.’’
And the arm strength so critical to Wentz’s position of choice, which would be quarterback?
“I think he can throw the ball 80, 100 yards,’’ Pascal said, probably veering into a bit of hyperbole.
Michael Pittman Jr. experienced Wentz’s strong arm during a recent workout in California. He was running post routes, and his new quarterback clearly was up to the challenge.
“He threw like a 65-yard post, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve really got to dig down and run,’’’ Pittman said.
And this from coach Frank Reich, who was instrumental in the Indianapolis Colts’ decision to transition from a retiring Philip Rivers by acquiring Wentz in a trade with Philadelphia.
“You can just feel his presence on the field,’’ Reich said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call. “He’s a dominant, physical specimen for the position.’’
Wentz stands 6-5, checks in at 237. Think of Andrew Luck. There’s even a beard.
“You feel that when he’s out there,’’ Reich said.
Those physical traits helped convince owner Jim Irsay to support the vetting done by Reich and decision of general manager Chris Ballard to part with two premium draft picks and acquire Wentz.
“I can’t emphasize how strongly I feel that Carson is the man for the job for the Colts at this time,’’ he said.
The litmus test begins Sept. 12 when the Wentz-led Colts open the season against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s when we’ll find out whether Wentz, eager to put a disastrous 2020 with the Eagles behind him, was the right quarterback at the right time for a quarterback-needy franchise, and whether the Colts made the right moves during the offseason to improve on last season’s 11-5 record and oh-so-close first-round playoff loss at Buffalo.
But so far, so good.
While the negotiated offseason program – two weeks and the cancellation of the three-day mandatory minicamp in June – has limited Reich’s hands-on opportunities with the players, it has given Wentz a chance to settle into his new NFL home.
“I feel great,’’ he said. “Obviously everything still is new. Just being in here these last couple of weeks has been nice just to get . . . used to the building, used to all the routines that go on in practice, but just getting to know the guys.
“Everyone’s been awesome, been super-welcoming and embracing.’’
Let’s not dismiss the importance of Wentz not only making himself at home in Indy, but actually fitting in.
In the blink of an eye and the second the trade became official, he became the face of the franchise. Yes, there’s T.Y. Hilton and Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson, but Carson Wentz is the quarterback.
It’s just different.
“The leadership of the quarterback is critically important,’’ Reich conceded. “As you guys know, we have a locker room full of really strong leaders, I mean really strong leaders.
“But in his own unique way, the quarterback has to be felt. Carson has already done that. The two weeks here, the weeks of meetings we had on Zoom . . . I know and I can feel Carson has made his presence known on this team, and this team has embraced his leadership.’’
Wentz was quick to debunk the notion he needs to make this team his team.
“I think that’s overblown,’’ he said. “For one, Frank really sets the tone. There’s a lot of great leadership. That’s what I’ve already seen on both sides of the ball.
“For me it’s not about making it my team by any means. It’s how do I fit in, how do I plug in and how do we maybe tweak some nuances of the offense and really just be a family and make it a team (that) we’re all in this thing together?’’
As much as the offseason is about reacquainting players with last year’s schemes – and inevitable adjustments – it’s also a time for that proverbial “bonding.’’ There are 11 rookies, including seven draft picks. There are a handful of free-agent acquisitions, including left tackle Eric Fisher.
And there’s Wentz. He’s been focused on getting familiar with his new surroundings and committed to connecting with his new teammates. That was the case when he was throwing with Pittman and Dezmon Patmon on the West Coast, Hilton and others locally, and whenever he passes someone in the locker room.
“For me, it’s natural,’’ Wentz said. “I enjoy getting to know guys, hearing their stories, their backgrounds, especially this time of year.
“Just getting to know guys is a big part of the camaraderie and the chemistry in the locker room. And not just the surface level: ‘Hey, how ya doin? I’m doin’ great’. That always happens.
“Just trying to understand who they are as people, family, wife, kids, all those things we can really bond and connect on a different level. Then when we’re out there on Sundays, we have a deeper relationship, and we just really trust each other and love each other that much more.’’
Nyheim Hines has experienced that side of Wentz. He mentioned Wentz’s “humility’’ and that he’s “trying to personally get to know everyone. It makes you want to play for him.
“He comes in, asks about my family, my sister, things like that. That’s pretty cool to see that he’s caring.’’
Backup quarterback Jacob Eason has spent more time with Wentz than most. He’s noticed Wentz’s desire to acclimate himself with everything, everyone.
“He’s done a tremendous job whether it’s in meetings or just walking around the locker room,’’ Eason said. “He engages guys. He goes up and introduces himself. I think he’s one of the guys who can talk to anyone in the locker room.’’
There were reports and unnamed sources last season that said Wentz became alienated from some of his teammates as the Eagles’ season deteriorated.
“I know there’s stuff being said about this and that in Philly, but as far as I’ve seen here, he’s been nothing but great, and I think he’ll be a huge addition to this team,’’ Eason said.
Indy represents a fresh start for Wentz. It’s an opportunity for a 28-year old quarterback who played at an MVP-level in 2017 to put ’20 behind him.
“His attitude couldn’t be better,’’ Reich said. “It was a hard year for him personally and a hard year (for the Eagles).
“Humble pie doesn’t taste good, but it’s good for you. It’s a chance for him to acknowledge, ‘I’ve got to hit the re-set button. I’ve got a fresh start here.’ He’s coming in with the right attitude of wanting to do his part.
“I believe he’s going to do that. I believe he’s going to have an incredible year and be a great leader and a great player for this team.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.