Analysis

Colts' Carson Wentz to bounce back in big way under Frank Reich

The winner of this season's NFL Comeback Player of Year award is going to be a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He's going to have red hair, bear an eerie resemblance to Prince Harry and leave plenty of Philadelphia Eagles fans wondering why he couldn't last as their franchise quarterback.

That's where Carson Wentz's career is heading now that he's been reunited with Colts head coach Frank Reich. Wentz is going to remind everybody of what he was once destined to become.

Of all the quarterbacks who've changed teams so far this offseason, the trade that sent Wentz to Indianapolis is easily the most intriguing to me. He left Philadelphia facing questions about his leadership, his decision-making and the long-term impact of his struggles on his psyche. Opponents battered Wentz relentlessly while the franchise that selected him second overall in the 2016 draft gave up on him. This was a man sorely in need of a new home and a fresh start.

Wentz has that now in Indianapolis. More importantly, he also has Reich, who served as his offensive coordinator during his best season in Philadelphia and seems hell-bent on making Wentz the quarterback Wentz used to be.

"I love sticking my neck out for people I believe in," Reich told reporters during a Zoom call this past Monday. "I'm willing to put it on the line for players that you believe in. I believe in this team (and) I believe in Carson. I feel good about it. I do know that his play will reflect the work that he does, the work that our team does, the work that our staff does, all the preparation. But I don't mind being the point person on that."

Reich pushed for the acquisition of Wentz partly because they know each other. Reich also lobbied for Wentz because the coach surely knows how everything that happened in Philadelphia wasn't entirely Wentz's fault. As much as Wentz struggled during his last two years with that franchise -- and ultimately wound up benched for the final four games of last season as the Eagles evaluated rookie Jalen Hurts -- Philadelphia was a complete dumpster fire by the end of 2020. The team was plagued by injuries, dysfunction and an apparent lack of leadership.

The most important job Reich has this offseason is helping Wentz remember that he can play at a high level. Wentz was doing exactly that in 2017, when he was a front-runner for league MVP honors until a torn ACL in his left knee ended his season after 13 games. A stress fracture in Wentz's back ended his 2018 campaign prematurely, as well.

You want to know what Wentz did from 2017 to 2019, even with those setbacks? The man threw 81 touchdown passes and only 21 interceptions in 40 games.

Once you get past all the bashing and scapegoating, you find a quarterback who can produce when he's in a good environment. That is exactly what Reich and the Colts are providing. They're giving Wentz a sturdy offensive line, a strong running game, solid young receivers and a defense that ranked 10th in the league in points allowed last season. Wentz is also getting Reich, who just took the recently retired Philip Rivers, a player who had languished with the Chargers a season earlier, and helped him bounce back while leading Indianapolis to an 11-5 record.

Rivers threw 20 interceptions for the Chargers in 2019. He wound up with 24 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions last season. It certainly helped that Rivers had a relationship with Reich before signing with Indianapolis, a bond that went back to the three years Reich spent as a Chargers assistant (he was that team's quarterbacks coach in 2013 and its offensive coordinator from 2014 to '15). When skeptics were thinking Rivers needed to call it a career, Reich was seeing a veteran who still had a few things left to offer a good team.

Now consider this: Wentz is better than Rivers was a year ago. He's younger, more athletic and fully capable of making the most of the future that lies ahead of him. Yes, last season was brutal, as Wentz set or tied career-worst marks for completion percentage (57.4), touchdown passes (16) and interceptions (15). Opposing teams also sacked him a jaw-dropping 50 times, which is why there have been so many lingering questions about how long he holds onto the football and how well he'll handle pressure moving forward.

When a reporter suggested that Wentz looked "broken" last season and openly queried Reich on how to fix that problem, Reich offered this response: "I just cringe when I hear stuff like that, not that a player shouldn't be accountable for poor play on the field. Carson has to answer to that, and he has answered to it. And until you get out there and prove otherwise, that's what you live with. But I just know that playing the position of quarterback, there are so many factors that go into it. We talked about why (Wentz had) the poor play last year, I'm just very confident that he has a team around him. It's just, I think, the culture fit."

The two most important words Reich used in that response were "culture" and "fit." He was the Eagles' offensive coordinator when Wentz came into the NFL and he was there when Wentz was riding high. Reich left for Indianapolis in early 2018 shortly after Nick Foles became the darling of that city, the backup who led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory after Wentz's knee injury and then led them back to the playoffs the next season, after Wentz's back failed him. Reich wasn't there to witness how Wentz ultimately dealt with his body betraying him or a locker room and city falling in love with the second-string signal-caller.

What Reich understands is that quarterbacks play best (as do all players) when they're in the right situations. Ryan Tannehill was a solid quarterback in Miami. He was a better one in Tennessee after being traded in 2019 and starting his tenure there as a backup. The same holds true for the recently retired Alex Smith, who resurrected his beleaguered career once Jim Harbaugh started coaching him in San Francisco and starred for Andy Reid after Kansas City acquired him via trade.

Those two quarterbacks had the same thing going for them that Wentz now has in Indianapolis: A coach who understands the importance of playing to a quarterback's strengths and minimizing his weaknesses. In fact, some Colts players already have expressed excitement at the big-play potential Wentz creates with his arm strength.

"We can't give away too much," said wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. "But it's going to be fun."

It should be an enjoyable year in Indianapolis. The Colts watched their dreams implode two seasons ago with the abrupt retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck but they managed a return to the playoffs last season with Rivers under center. There surely are plenty of skeptics who now wonder what the Colts are getting in Wentz. However, with everything Indianapolis is putting around him, I believe he'll be ready to handle all the questions that ultimately come his way.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter.

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