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A Late Bloomer, Carson Wentz Looks To Stand Tall On Senior Bowl Saturday

MOBILE, Ala. – There's something ironic about Senior Bowl week here in Mobile, amid the nationally-broadcasted practices and the hundreds of NFL scouts and coaches and front office personnel gathering on the Gulf Coast to assess the nation's best senior draft prospects.

Of the eight quarterbacks participating this week, Carson Wentz is the only one from a non-FBS school.

Yet the North Dakota State standout, who played in from of home crowds closer to 10,000 than 100,000, has drawn more media attention than arguably anyone else on the North or South team rosters.

There's a good reason for that. The 6-6, 235-pound Wentz has talent and championship credentials, and if the late-January mock drafts are any indication, his stock appears to be rising – possibly as high as the first round.

No surprise, then, that the cameras and microphones have followed him off the Ladd-Peebles Stadium turf after each North squad session.

"It's kind of what I thought, kind of what I expected," Wentz said following the team's final practice before Saturday's game. "Obviously maybe a couple more cameras in the face and all that stuff, but it kind of is what it is. It's exciting and it's a good experience."

There's also an unknown element to Wentz that drives intrigue. He conquered the FCS as a two-year starter with two national championships. But how will he perform against the nation's best this Saturday and eventually on Sundays in the fall?

"To be honest, it doesn't matter if you come from the SEC or FCS or Division II, obviously the NFL is fast," Wentz said. "You watch an NFL tape, guys fly around. Everyone's going to have to make that adjustment. I'm obviously going to have to just as well. But I'm excited and ready to prove that."

The Senior Bowl is a great platform all four North-team quarterbacks coached by the Cowboys' staff this week: USC's Cody Kessler, Louisiana Tech's Jeff Driskel, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Wentz, a 23-year-old from Bismark, N.D.

"Well, he's got the prototype size," Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Wentz. "He's an athlete – he's got some sneaky, quick, fast body mechanics and movement to go along with a really nice arm. It's been fun. All of the quarterbacks have been great. They all come from really, really good coaching backgrounds and really great systems. It translates well for a game like this."

This week, Wentz is absorbing helpful instruction from a quarterback-friendly Cowboys coaching staff (head coach Jason Garrett, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and Linehan) that has high-level experience playing the position. He also enjoyed meeting Cowboys owner/general Jerry Jones briefly after Wednesday's practice.

"It was cool," he said. "Obviously you see a legend, icon like Jerry Jones, it's really cool to get to meet him. I didn't even recognize him right away because he had his hat on, sunglasses."

Backup quarterback is widely speculated as a potential draft target for Dallas following its 1-11 record in games Tony Romo missed due to injury in 2015. Jones said Wednesday that it's not a must, however, because the team is confident Romo can play several more years at a high level.

There's no telling where Wentz will begin his NFL career, but it's safe to say he has gotten the entire league's attention as one of the top 2016 prospects at his position. He's a late bloomer who stood 5-8 and weighed 125 pounds as a high school freshman.

"I came in my senior year at 6-5 and 200 pounds and kind of came out of nowhere," he said. "I always knew I had the physical and mental abilities to play this position, but physically I finally developed late."

Despite all his collegiate success, the chance to prove himself against top competition in Mobile was a "no-brainer" once he knew he had completely recovered from a wrist injury that sidelined him for part of his senior season.

"From the day I got the invite, I knew I wanted to play in this game," he said. "I'm a competitor and I wanted to come out here and compete and show what I was capable of doing."

The Cowboys' coaches are doing their best to help him play his best this week.

"They're very intelligent," he said. "You can tell that they know the game. I'm looking forward to the game on Saturday."


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