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Eagles want Wentz to avoid unnecessary hits

PHILADELPHIA--Carson Wentz has created a frenzy in Philadelphia, but it will continue only if he can stay on the field. Wentz's throws and decisions won't prompt any squirming, but the same can't be said about the hits he has taken.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) is sacked by Chicago Bears outside linebacker Willie Young (97) during the second half at Soldier Field. Philadelphia won 29-14. USA Today Sports
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) is sacked by Chicago Bears outside linebacker Willie Young (97) during the second half at Soldier Field. Philadelphia won 29-14. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports)

PHILADELPHIA-Carson Wentz has created a frenzy in Philadelphia, but it will continue only if he can stay on the field. Wentz's throws and decisions won't prompt any squirming, but the same can't be said about the hits he has taken.

"I'm mad at myself," Wentz said. "I don't want to take those hits by any means. I'm still learning and I can tell myself over and over again, but it's one of those when you're in the heat of battle, I need to keep reprogramming myself."

Wentz, who is 2-0 in his first two starts with the Eagles, gives the franchise hope that it has finally found its long-term starting quarterback. For that to happen, it won't just be a matter of his performing at a high level-he must also stay healthy. Wentz missed three weeks this summer with broken ribs and eight weeks last year at North Dakota State with a broken wrist. So he's vulnerable to injury, and the risk is heightened every time Wentz bypasses sliding or the sidelines to take a big hit.

It's those plays in which he has scrambled that the Eagles and Wentz most want him to fix. If he stands in the pocket and delivers a throw, getting hit can be part of the job description. But when he's running, he can slide before contact or run out of bounds.

Wentz earns the respect of teammates with some throws he has made under duress, like the fourth-down conversion in the season opener when he released the ball just before he was pummeled by a blitzer, and a dart to Brent Celek on Monday while nearly in the arms of a Chicago Bears defender. But then there were runs in both games when Wentz invited contact rather than try to avoid it.

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"He's a very courageous quarterback-sometimes too courageous," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

The coaching staff was in Wentz's ear about the hits this past week. It was once a conversation in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it's not about the size of the quarterback, but his mentality. Some quarterbacks do anything to avoid a hit, others take on greater risk. Wentz played running back as a kid and has never surrendered that running back mentality.

"I think it's hard to rewire him," coach Doug Pederson said. "I think you just need to constantly keep talking with him and going back and showing him those plays on tape to just make him aware and conscious of, 'Hey, again, as I mentioned before, I don't need the extra yard here. It's OK to throw the ball away. It's OK to step out of bounds or slide.' Just keeping showing him over and over and over again, because not only for his longevity, but obviously for the team, as well. You want to make sure that your quarterback, especially your starting quarterback, is the guy that's protecting himself the most."

One player who can empathize is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Roethlisberger is built like Wentz. He also offers notable athleticism for his size. Roethlisberger has two Super Bowls and four Pro Bowls on his resumé, but he also has a long injury history. He has played 16 games just three times in 12 NFL seasons, and said it's hard for a quarterback to find the balance between trying to make a play and surrendering for the next play.

"Now I understand there's a time and a place to sell your body out and a time and place to get down and get out of bounds," Roethlisberger said. "As a young guy, kind of the same shoes as Carson is now, you don't see that. You just want to do everything you can for the team. You know your guys love it when you're selling your body to try to get a first down or try to get an extra yard. At some point, you'll realize it's more important for him to be on the field than be injured and get that extra yard."

Wentz's running ability could be an asset. At North Dakota State, the offense benefited from designed runs with Wentz. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the coaching staff has tried not to put him in that position early in the season, but as the season progresses, the coaches will introduce more of those concepts.

By that point, Reich hopes, Wentz will have received the message that it's the quarterback's responsibility to protect himself. Reich said there were "a couple hits he shouldn't have taken," but some hits come in the "normal course of business." The key for Wentz will be distinguishing the two during split-second decisions in games.

"It's one of those things as a young quarterback, it's something I'm trying every day to remind myself," Wentz said. "Even when I'm watching film, how could I have prevented (that hit)-what would I have done there? It's something I'm still learning and obviously need to keep learning."

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Eagles' quarterback Carson Wentz runs past Chicago Bears' outside linebacker Willie Young during the fourth-quarter on Monday, September 19, 2016 in Chicago. DAVD MAIALETTI / Philadelphia Daily News
Sep 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) throws the ball during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Philadelphia won 29-14. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

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