- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2022

LANDOVER — With one throw, Carson Wentz displayed the kind of power and touch that must have tantalized Ron Rivera all those months ago when the coach pored through tape after tape to find his next quarterback. 

Around midfield, the 29-year-old caused the defense to bite on a pump fake, stepped up into the pocket and unleashed a bomb of more than 50 yards right to Marken Michel.

That sort of pass had been missing from the Commanders’ offense in recent years, and, judging by their excitement upon the completion, the fans on hand at FedEx Field for Saturday’s stadium practice knew it. 

But for every highlight from Wentz during the session, there were plenty of more throws that were off the mark — serving as a reminder that, despite his enticing physical attributes, the seven-year veteran’s fit with the Commanders very much remains a work in progress.

Wentz’s accuracy — or lack of it — has been hard to ignore at times over the course of the Burgundy and Gold’s training camp. Saturday was no exception. In the team work portion of practice, which featured 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, Wentz went just 10 of 21 as he occasionally overthrew receivers, bounced balls off the backs of jerseys and skipped passes in the dirt.

The struggles marked another uneven outing for Wentz, whose inconsistencies have also arguably overshadowed his brighter moments during practices in Ashburn.

The adjustment may be normal for this time of year. Wentz, after all, is learning a brand new scheme after running a variation of the same offense with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts — his last two stops.  And the quarterback is still catching up on his new cast of playmakers with Terry McLaurin missing OTAs and Curtis Samuel in and out of the lineup with injuries.

At the very least, neither Rivera nor Wentz seemed to make much of the struggles.

“There are some inaccuracies, but it’s nothing that we are overly concerned about,” Rivera said.

“It’s still early, we’re only two weeks into camp and those are the things that particularly we’re working on,” Wentz said. “We’re also not game-planning for our defense. You know, seeing different looks and all those things. So, I feel like it’s in a good place, but it’s just going to keep getting better.”

Wentz, interestingly enough, got better as Saturday’s session went along. When the Commanders resumed team drills down the stretch, the former first-rounder finally appeared to get into a rhythm.

In a five-play sequence, Wentz needled a throw through traffic to find Jahan Dotson, hit Samuel on a quick screen, connected with tight end Curtis Hodges and ended the rep with the strike to Michel.  

Later, on an 11-play series, Wentz made another one of his best throws of the night: He found McLaurin on a back-shoulder fade route for a 15-yard-or-so touchdown. Wentz delivered the ball to McLaurin over cornerback Danny Johnson. 

The duo was especially excited over the play,  they said, because Saturday marked the first time in this year’s camp the team had installed that particular concept. In the larger picture, the touchdown was an instance in which Wentz’s connection with McLaurin has started to blossom.

Rivera told reporters that McLaurin’s absence from earlier offseason workouts “without a doubt” affected the pairing, but said he’s now starting to see Wentz get used to McLaurin’s speed.

“I definitely think it’s a work in progress,” said McLaurin, who held out over contract talks before signing a three-year, $71 million deal. “I feel like we are connecting more as the weeks go on.” 

Next weekend’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers will represent a good opportunity for Wentz and the offense to get further into a rhythm, Rivera said. The coach added Wentz will “definitely” play, though did not specify for how long. 

Wentz’s accuracy, however, will likely be an area closely watched all season long, no matter how well he does or doesn’t play against the Panthers. Since 2019, the signal-caller has completed only 61.6% of his passes — ranking 39th among 52 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 200 passes, according to Pro Football Reference.

For now, Rivera said Wentz is “developing within the program.” He said he sees the quarterback’s progression, such as the improvement in timing and the understanding of progressions.

“It’s a different offense he’s played in and he’s getting used to different players, different characteristics in terms of types of wide receivers he’s throwing to,” Rivera said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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