Clayton Thorson Fits the Doug Pederson Mold
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - If you happen to be a four-year starting quarterback at a major college football program who has been deemed good enough to be drafted by the NFL, there are worse places to land than Philadelphia.
Clayton Thorson, a 53-game starter at Northwestern, happens to fit the above description and took his first reps as an NFL signal caller at the Eagles rookie minicamp Friday.
Thorson now takes up residence in Doug Pederson's quarterback incubator, an offensive scheme and system that turned Carson Wentz into an MVP-level candidate by his sophomore season and took Nick Foles from thinking about retirement to the Super Bowl hero who earned a monster contract in Jacksonville.
Since Pederson returned to Philadelphia he has always surrounded himself with a host of people who understand the game's most important position and have expertise in it starting with the coach himself, a long-time NFL backup QB who coached the position under Andy Reid before moving on to be an offensive coordinator and ultimately a head coach.
Early it was Frank Reich, now the top guy in Indianapolis, and John DeFilippo, now Foles' OC with the Jags after a short stint in Minnesota. Currently, it's Mike Groh, an ex QB in college at Virginia, and Press Taylor, once a star signal caller at Butler Community College before landing at Marshall.
There are many sounding boards for Philadelphia's QB room and Thorson is now a part of that as the developmental option behind Wentz and newly-elevated backup Nate Sudfeld.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Thorson was extremely successful at Northwestern, not exactly a common theme for the Wildcats before his arrival in the always tough Big Ten. His 53 starts were a conference record and produced a 36-17 record against competition that included heavyweights like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa over the years.
“The wins are most important,” Thorson said of his college years. "“I think just knowing that we won 36 games and it probably should have been more like 44. Just knowing that there was more on the table, too, is something good."
The scheme was important also because the Wildcats played more of a pro-style offense.
“I think thankfully the scheme we had at Northwestern allows me to have not as steep of a learning curve," he said. "But there is a lot of differences as well. Obviously, there’s some technique in that but the mental side of it is just different things are going different ways, that’s different than college.”
The bigger sea change for Thorson may be going from being the guy to just another guy as he learns the position at the professional level.
“Knowing that I don’t know everything and those guys [Wentz and Sudfeld] know pretty much it all," Thorson said when asked about how he would handle taking a step back “Just learning from those guys, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Thorson should get plenty of time in the offseason. At rookie camp, he was the No. 1 QB with former AAF starter Luis Perez playing a secondary role. Meanwhile, while the veterans are on the field for OTAs, the Eagles may remain cautious with Wentz, who is still recovering from the stress fracture in his back that short-circuited his 2018 season at 11 games.
Already Thorson seems to have the dynamic that Pederson likes at the position, the mindset of being a distributor and "letting the offense work for you."
“I think any time you can make your teammates better that’s what you’ve got to try to do,” Thorson explained. “That’s what I’m going to do. Any time I can make my teammates better I’m going to say something to them.”
Thorson led Northwestern to team success in his final college season but his personal numbers took a bit of a tumble as he fought through his ACL rehab from an injury suffered in the Wildcats' bowl game during the prior campaign.
“I feel so much better now,” Thorson admitted. “Week by week it got better last season but what I keep hearing is the second year out from an ACL is just so much better and I feel that right now. You can get back to doing a seven-step drop, hitting that plant [foot] and going upfield.”
His NFL start came with a scaled-down install designed to allow everyone to play fast while also creating a foundation to build on.
"Just getting back to playing football again [is exciting],” Thorson said of the minicamp. “I feel like it’s been so long since we’ve been doing that against a defense. But also, just learning the offense, getting a base for this offense, what the Eagles offense is. Get to know the fellow draft picks, signees and coaches as well."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen