Carson Wentz has the Eagles thinking playoffs

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Carson Wentz proved last year he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback.

Now, it's time to take the next step.

The Philadelphia Eagles allowed Wentz to learn on the fly as a rookie. He was promoted from No. 3 on the depth chart eight days before the season opener, started 16 games and led the Eagles to a 7-9 record.

But Wentz needed more help to make the offense go. So Philadelphia signed wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency. It drafted wide receivers Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson and running back Donnel Pumphrey.

''We know we can be dynamic,'' Wentz said. ''We just have got to be consistent and stay ahead of the change and be disciplined.''

Wentz has all the intangibles to go along with his football skills. He's known for his strong work ethic, is an excellent leader and teammates love him. Wentz hosted a cookout for his offensive linemen at his home in New Jersey during the offseason and worked out with the receivers back in his hometown in North Dakota. The players bonded and built chemistry on and off the field.

''It just shows the leadership that Carson has and the rapport he has with the receivers and the confidence that he has in those guys,'' coach Doug Pederson said. ''It's something that's exciting as a coach to know your guys are getting together, working on their craft. It means something to them, it's important to them, and that's exciting for me.''

The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and haven't reached the dance since 2013. They're building their roster for the future, but also have surrounded Wentz with veteran talent to compete now.

A defense that improved significantly in the first season under coordinator Jim Schwartz should take another step forward. First-round pick Derek Barnett bolsters the pass rush and cornerback Ronald Darby, acquired in a trade with Buffalo, upgrades the secondary.

The NFC East is a tough division once again. There's no clear runaway, though, so the Eagles should be in the mix going into the second half of the schedule.

Here are some things to know about the Eagles:

THUNDER & LIGHTNING: Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing TDs and helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl, was brought in to improve the short-yardage running game and give the Eagles a back who can get the tough yards. Second-year RB Wendell Smallwood could end up getting most of the carries, though veteran Darren Sproles is still dangerous whenever he touches the ball. The two rookies, Pumphrey and Clement, have a chance to see action.

NELSON'S LAST CHANCE: The additions of Jeffery and Smith, plus the rookies, made dependable receiver Jordan Matthews expendable and he was traded for Darby. His departure opens the door for Nelson Agholor, a 2015 first-round pick who has underachieved. He'll start the season as the slot receiver after showing improvement throughout the summer.

LINE DEPTH: The Eagles are strong on both sides of the line. Nine-time Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson anchor the offensive side along with left guard Isaac Seumalo, center Jason Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks. Backups Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski have plenty of starting experience. On the defensive side, Fletcher Cox can be dominant. Fellow tackles Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen are solid interior linemen. The key to the defense is whether rushers Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Vinny Curry and Barnett can consistently provide pressure.

CORNERBACK SHUFFLE: Darby and second-year pro Jalen Mills replace departed starting cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. Rookie Rasul Douglas and veterans Patrick Robinson and Dexter McDougle are also newcomers.

DOUG'S DECISIONS: Pederson had a so-so year as a first-time head coach in 2016. He made some aggressive calls that backfired, and like his mentor, Andy Reid, relied heavily on passing instead of a balanced attack. With a year under his belt calling the shots, Pederson should be more comfortable.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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