In one devastating touchdown pass, cornerback Deiondre’ Hall experienced both Carson Wentz’s pure talent and high-level football IQ.
It was Oct. 10 last year and Northern Iowa was on the brink of pulling off a significant upset on the road against Wentz and the North Dakota State Bison. The Panthers led 28-24 with 43 seconds remaining, but Wentz had driven his team down to the 18-yard-line. Northern Iowa was in man-coverage on first down and Hall was lined up to the outside against the Bison’s top wide receiver.
Despite being in a hurry-up situation, Wentz was able to quickly diagnose the coverage the Panthers were playing. According to Hall, the quarterback made a check at the line and the slot receiver ran a straight fade route to the back corner of the end zone. It was Wentz’s first read and he didn’t need to make any more. The quarterback took a short drop and put a perfect ball into the air.
Hall, showing his own football intelligence, realized what was happening and quickly abandoned his assignment. He used his speed to provide help in the end zone and almost was able to knock the ball away with his long arms. But Wentz’s pass was just too good and Bison wide receiver Darrius Shepherd was able to haul in the game-winning touchdown pass.
Almost a year later, Wentz and Hall are now both in the NFL and will face each other Monday night at Soldier Field. Wentz was drafted No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, while the Bears selected Hall No. 127 overall in the fourth round. Both players have promising NFL careers ahead of them, but while Hall needs some time to develop, Wentz already made an impressive debut in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.
Hall played North Dakota State five times in college, but only two of those games featured both players as healthy starters. I asked Hall this week to provide a scouting report on Wentz and this is what he said:
“The kid has an arm. He reads defenses really well and he can depict what he sees pre-snap to get his guys going in the right direction. Just a cannon of an arm, not afraid to run it, so he’s not one-dimensional by any means.”
As for what he saw on tape from Wentz’s NFL debut, Hall said:
“A lot of the check down passes to the tight end are kind of what he did at NDSU. Through preseason, we’re all aware he battled through a little injury so he wasn’t running it as much, but I definitely know they have that in the system with him. Not being one-dimensional. He can run it and pass.”
Wentz is indeed more mobile than he gets credit for and it’s something Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is well aware of. No one had more complimentary things to say about Wentz this week than Fangio.
“He’s pretty damn impressive,” the defensive coordinator said. “It looks now that Philadelphia is going to be very well rewarded for the risk they took in drafting (him). They gave up a lot of stuff to get this guy because he looks like he’s going to be a longterm hell of a quarterback.”
One of the reasons why Wentz is so prepared to be the Eagles’ starter already is because of the offense he ran in college. While many knocked him for playing against FCS-level competition, the reality is that he was in full command of a pro-style offense, making his transition to the NFL very smooth.
“For some guys learning a new system and the pro-style things can be a lot, but going back to my college days we did a lot of the same stuff,” Wentz said on a conference call this week. “I was calling protections and making run-checks and making audibles, playing under center, so that stuff came pretty natural for me. So really just (needed to adjust) to the speed of the game and I thought I did that pretty quickly.”
The Bears were very interested in Wentz before the draft and had him make a trip to Halas Hall for a pre-draft visit, but the talented quarterback was just too far out of reach at No. 2 overall.
Now they have the challenge of facing the rookie Monday night at Soldier Field.
Three Key Questions:
1) Can the Bears get a more consistent pass rush? They faced a relatively green quarterback last week too, but couldn’t create enough pressure to rattle Brock Osweiler, who had a solid overall game. This will be Wentz’s first NFL game on the road and it will be in a big spotlight on Monday Night Football. Lamarr Houston needs to play more and Willie Young needs to play better. Continued growth from rookie Leonard Floyd — drafted seven picks after Wentz — is crucial too. It was encouraging to see Floyd get a sack in his debut.
2) Will the Bears’ offensive line be better? The unit had legitimate excuses in Week 1 with Josh Sitton and Cody Whitehair only getting three days of practice to adjust to a new team/new position, respectively. There were times when the Bears’ offense showed some explosiveness, but they need to get the running game going and protect Cutler better. That falls on the O-line.
3) Can Kevin White build some confidence? To help him do so, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains admitted Friday that he needs to “make sure we don’t make the route tree too much for him.” That’s not exactly encouraging for a No. 7 overall draft pick who in his second year with this offense.
Prediction: Bears 20, Eagles 17
I think we’ll learn at lot Monday night about the progress John Fox has made with this team from Year 1 to Year 2. This is a game the Bears are more than capable of winning and, at home, it’s one they probably should win. I expect this game to be similar to many the Bears played at Soldier Field last year — ones they could have won, but didn’t (see: Broncos, 49ers, Redskins and Lions). If the Bears have made the improvements the coaching staff believes they have made, this is one they need to pull out in the fourth quarter.
Around the League
The Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman one day after Buffalo put up 31 points on the Jets. One reaction from a member of the Bears’ coaching staff: “That’s the problem with this league.” … It was good to see referee Ed Hochuli pull Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor out of the game Thursday night after Taylor was crunched by multiple defenders and looked limp as he fell to the ground. That’s exactly how the concussion protocol is supposed to work … The Detroit Lions are an increasingly interesting team to watch. After winning six of their last eight games last season, the Lions went on the road and out-dueled Andrew Luck and the Colts last week. In fact, without Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford actually looked more comfortable spreading the ball around. Of course, it would be very Lions-y to lose to the Tennessee Titans at home Sunday … It’s absolutely the right call for the Vikings to start Sam Bradford Sunday night against the Packers, even if he’s still digesting the offense. Come on, you can’t open up a brand new stadium and trot Shaun Hill out there … By the way, Packers favored by 2.5? Give me the Vikes to win straight-up … Lock of the week (as heard on Intentional Grounding): Steelers (-3.0) at home against the Bengals … Teams are still feeling out the new touchback rule. Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers spent the extra off day this week going back and watching every single kickoff across the NFL from Week 1 … Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio when asked whether or not he would consult rookie Deiondre’ Hall on Carson Wentz: “Not.”
NFL Draft Game Of The Week
No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame (-7.0)
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer is a legitimate NFL prospect and the Michigan State defense will provide a stiff test. The Spartans have a first-round talent in junior defensive tackle Malik McDowell and three or four other players who could be playing in the Senior Bowl in January. At this point I don’t know if quarterback Tyler O’Connor is an NFL prospect or not, but I’m intrigued to see more from him.
NFL prospects to watch:
Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey
Notre Dame DT Jarron Jones
Michigan State DT Malik McDowell
Michigan State SS Montae Nicholson
Michigan State ILB Riley Bullough
The Saturday Itinerary
Here’s what I would be watching if I was sitting on my couch all day Saturday:
11 a.m. (ABC) — No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville (+1.0)
This is one the better 11 a.m. games you can get. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s 13 touchdowns (seven passing, six rushing) in two games is insane, even if they came against poor competition. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois is off to a great start too and this figures to be one of the more competitive games of the week.
NFL prospect to watch: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Alternate games: No. 25 Miami at Appalachian State (+3.5) on ESPN; North Dakota State at Iowa (no spread) on ESPN2
2:30 p.m. (CBS) — No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss (+11.0)
In a week full of home underdogs, Ole Miss is a big one, but let’s not forget they have two wins in a row against Alabama.
NFL prospect to watch: Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
Alternate games: No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska (-3.0) on ABC; Western Michigan at Illinois (+3.0) at 3 p.m. on ESPN News
6:30 p.m. (FOX) — No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma (+1.0)
This is a great primetime matchup with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield hosting Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes are loaded with young talent, but this is very tough road test for a green team. The Sooners’ experience will give them a chance.
NFL prospect to watch: Ohio State ILB Raekwon McMillan
Alternate games (both 7 p.m. starts): USC at No. 7 Stanford (-8.5) on ABC, Duke at Northwestern (-3.5) on BTN
The Nightcap: 9:30 p.m. (ESPN) — No. 11 Texas at California (+7.0)
Upset Alert: No. 25 Miami at Appalachian State (+3.5)
The Top 10
2. Florida State
4. Ohio State