Carson Wentz aims to start something when Rams visit 49ers

Since joining the Rams in November, Carson Wentz rarely has stood still on the sideline.

The veteran quarterback bursts into sprints as if he is avoiding a rush. He tosses passes as if he’s engineering a game-winning, two-minute drive.

But as Matthew Stafford led the Rams to a playoff spot, Wentz never got the chance to show in a game that he could once again be a viable NFL starter.

That opportunity arrives Sunday.

Coach Sean McVay is resting Stafford and a few other starters, so Wentz will be under center against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

Will Wentz be as active on the sideline as a starter as he was as the backup?

“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “I’m not a 22-year-old spring chicken anymore. I’m 31 and I got to find a way to stay fresh and stay warm.”

Wentz, the No. 2 pick behind Jared Goff in the 2016 NFL draft, has not started a game since Jan. 1, 2022, when he played for the Washington Commanders.

A victory over the 49ers, the top seed in the NFC, would enable the No. 6 Rams to maintain their seed and play the Detroit Lions in a wild-card game. If the Rams lose, and the Green Bay Packers defeat the Chicago Bears, the Rams would fall to the No. 7 seed and play the Dallas Cowboys.

“Excited to go get a chance and, yes, there is still some stuff to play for and there’s things at stake and it’s January,” Wentz said. “I haven’t played a game in a long time so I’m excited for it.”

Rams quarterbacks Carson Wentz (11) and Matthew Stafford (9) talk before their game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Carson Wentz (11) says he has been soaking up knowledge from Rams starting quarterback Matthew Stafford (9). Wentz is starting in Week 18 against the 49ers.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“Just what he does off the field, just in this film room, and just how he sees the game, it’s been fun to get to work with him.”

— Carson Wentz, on Rams starting quarterback Matthew Stafford

The 6-foot-5, 237-pound Wentz played his first five NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2017, he appeared on his way to a possible MVP award but suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Rams, and Nick Foles stepped in and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title.

Before the 2021 season, the Eagles traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. He was traded to the Commanders before the 2022 season, and was released last February.

Wentz has a 46-45-1 record as a starter. He has passed for 151 touchdowns, with 66 interceptions.

Wentz played a few snaps in the Rams’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 26, but he did not attempt a pass. Most of his work in game-like situations has come in practice as the scout-team quarterback.

Rams coaches and players expect Wentz’s game experience to come through against the 49ers.

“This is a guy that’s played some high-level ball in his career,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said, “and he believes, and so do I, that he still has a lot of that out there for him.”

Stafford, 35, had played seven NFL seasons before Wentz was drafted out of North Dakota State. Wentz said he watched Stafford from afar, and has learned from observing him on and off the field.

“We see all the highlights — we see all the funky arm angles and how he can make all the throws,” Wentz said, “But just what he does off the field, just in this film room, and just how he sees the game, it’s been fun to get to work with him.

“So I’ve just been soaking it up, trying to gain as much knowledge as I can and be ready.”

Star receiver Cooper Kupp is among Rams starters who will not play Sunday. Receivers Puka Nacua, Demarcus Robinson and Tutu Atwell will be targets for Wentz.

“In some of the [practice] reps that will come this week, I think it will be easy to find the connection,” said Nacua, who is on the brink of establishing NFL rookie receiving records. “When he puts the ball out there, it’s the same thing as Matthew, so just go out there and trust that I’ll be in the right spot, and I’ll be able to come down with it.”

Said Robinson: “He’s been around for a minute now, so I’m sure he’s caught up to the rhythm and what’s going on. … I think it will run pretty smooth. He knows what he’s doing.”

McVay is not expected to rest offensive lineman, so Wentz will have a full complement of protection. And though running back Kyren Williams will not play, Royce Freeman and Ronnie Rivers are expected to alternate and provide additional pass protection for Wentz.

“Just excited to be able to see him go compete, do his thing,” McVay said of the quarterback.

This week, rather than shadowing Stafford and repeating plays after practice, Wentz has taken first-team reps.

He welcomed the preparation, and operating with the mindset of a starter.

“It kind of starts to hit your brain differently because it’s built for you,” he said of the game plan. “It’s built for what you do well. … it’s definitely a little less stressful knowing, ‘OK, I’m going to go play. I don’t have to just wait and see what happens’ type-of-thing.”

Last season, with Stafford sidelined because of a spinal injury and backup John Wolford attempting to play through injury, the Rams signed quarterback Baker Mayfield in December. The former No. 1 overall draft pick had played for the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers before he landed with the Rams.

Mayfield showed enough in five games to earn a shot at a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mayfield has led the Buccaneers to an 8-8 record and a possible playoff spot.

Wentz no doubt would like to similarly parlay his Rams experience into a starting NFL opportunity in 2024. For now, he said, he is focused on the 49ers, not his future.

“My job is still to go out there and try to help this team win, and figure all that out later,” he said. “But I’m enjoying it and excited for it.”

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