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Carson Wentz shows confidence at Senior Bowl practice before NFL onlookers

Carson Wentz shows confidence at Senior Bowl practice before NFL onlookers
North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz runs through drills during a Senior Bowl practice on Jan. 28. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Poise under pressure. Improvisational skills that enable a player to come through despite unexpected circumstances.

Those are qualities that NFL teams desire in quarterbacks, especially the ones that might be chosen high in the first round of the draft.

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Carson Wentz demonstrated those traits during Senior Bowl practices this week, but he was quickest on his feet after a key workout.

That's when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones rushed up to the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Wentz, who played mostly under the radar at North Dakota State and is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft class.

"Jerry Jones with the Cowboys," the owner, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, said at midfield. "Pleasure meeting you."

"You too," replied the surprised Wentz. "Didn't recognize you there for a second. Trying to stay undercover a little bit?"

"Well, I got the shades on, about half incognito here, but good to meet you," Jones said. "Congratulations to how you got here."

Where Wentz goes in the draft won't be determined for three months. The NFL's selection process will be April 28-30 in Chicago.

Along the way, Wentz and others who play the sport's most scrutinized position will see their stock go up and down as they navigate the NFL scouting combine, pro day workouts at their colleges and individual workouts with teams.

Wentz, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and USC's Cody Kessler were among eight quarterbacks here for the Senior Bowl, which concludes with a game Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Others such as California's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook will join them at the combine next month.

The challenge will be to keep emotions in check as speculation and mock drafts appear in media.

Bruce Tollner, one of the agents who represents Wentz and Goff, said he advises clients to avoid the speculation and concentrate on getting better.

"April is a long way from now," Tollner said, adding, "You've just got to focus on understanding it's a long process, because it's a roller coaster ride the whole way."

The Rams have the 15th pick in the draft. General Manager Les Snead would not disclose the team's plans but said "you definitely have to prepare" to pick a quarterback high in the draft.

"If I was giving advice to the QBs, it would be: Treat it like a long-term investment," Snead said. "Don't look at the stock price day to day. Don't get on the roller coaster. . . . Don't prepare for the NFL draft. Prepare for being the best NFL QB you can be."

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Wentz came to the Senior Bowl as something of a curiosity for the hundreds of scouts, coaches and general managers in attendance.

He played at a Football Championship Division school and suffered a broken wrist during the season. But his size, arm strength, mobility and experience in a pro-style system made him the most-watched player at Senior Bowl workouts.

Wentz is on a North team roster that is being coached by Jones' Cowboys staff. The Cowboys, with aging and injury-riddled Tony Romo at quarterback, have the No. 4 pick in the draft.

So Jones' public interest in Wentz might be genuine. Or his display of affection might have been a misdirection play in a draft game that is full of intrigue and not immune to trickery.

"Each of these guys have something to offer or they wouldn't be here," Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said. "We're trying to do our best evaluation on each of them before we talk about who we may or may not take in the draft."

Hogan said Thursday that he enjoyed the three days of practices and that he improved as he worked with pro coaches.

"Where I get drafted is going to be based on my film and my tape in the season," he said when asked how he handled speculation. "I know all this stuff is for fans — I get that it's all things that need to be talked about before the draft.

"I'm just going to try and improve my game where I can and let my tape be my resume."

Kessler said, "You have to kind of keep your blinders on" about draft speculation.

"You can't look into everything like that, even if it's really good or really bad," he said, adding, "You know there's going to be stuff here and there. It's just part of the business."

Said Mississippi State's Dak Prescott: "Sometimes it pops up and you see it. It's not something you go looking for. The bad stuff is motivating and the good stuff, you don't want to let people down that speak well of you. It's all about staying focused."

Wentz showed a strong arm, good decision-making skills and mobility throughout the week. His next test comes Saturday, when he will face players from Football Bowl Subdivision schools in a game for the first time.

"It's cool," he said of speculation about his draft prospects, "but at the same time I don't let it distract me."

Wentz remained surprised but unfazed by his encounter with Jones. After Thursday's final practice, as he signed autographs for fans, he reflected on the midfield meeting.

"It was definitely different," he said, chuckling. "That's life in general. You know, when it throws you a curveball sometimes you've got to react and run with it."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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