PHILADELPHIA — Carson Wentz stood at the line of scrimmage Tuesday morning, his arms outstretched, and waited for his cue. Dropping back, Wentz spun right and rolled left, and there, as he prepared to throw toward a receiver stationed along the sideline, he confronted a pass-rusher — a Philadelphia Eagles staffer swatting a vinyl shield.
As his teammates practiced on two other fields, Wentz was enduring what amounts to a football obstacle course. Each repetition ended with his jumping over a dummy or running through a gantlet or bouncing off those shields, movements that test his surgically repaired left knee and approximate those he will make when he is cleared for contact, whenever that is.
Three weeks until the Eagles’ season opener on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons, Wentz stressed that it will be a close call as to whether he plays that night.
“Whatever the case is,” Wentz, 25, said, “I know I’ll be ready whatever comes.”
If he does start, it will mark the capstone of an astounding recovery from two torn ligaments suffered less than nine months earlier, in a Dec. 10 victory at the Los Angeles Rams. If he doesn’t, if Philadelphia’s medical staff determines that Wentz needs additional time, then the Eagles can abide.
They will send out the most valuable player of the Super Bowl.
Perhaps you heard, but in February the Eagles won the Super Bowl, their first in franchise history. Philadelphia outlasted the New England Patriots not with Wentz, the star expected to deliver that elusive title, but with Nick Foles. Before last season the team invested two years and $11 million in Foles hoping that he would never take a snap. The Eagles were glad he did, of course, but their general philosophy hasn’t changed.
“It’s a very unique situation,” Foles said.
Imagine any of the quarterbacks who preceded Foles as the Super Bowl’s MVP — Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, among them — rejoining their team the following season as the backup. The Eagles’ championship affirmed that their strength was their team and not any individual player, but they did not move up to draft Wentz at No. 2 in 2016 to displace him after he set the franchise record with 33 touchdown passes last season before getting hurt.
With Foles’ value at its highest, and teams around the NFL coveting him, the Eagles did not trade him in the offseason. The security he provided — with Wentz’s timetable unclear, in coach Doug Pederson’s scheme, as a selfless teammate in a quarterback dynamic that never grew awkward — superseded any draft capital they could have recouped.
“Who I am as a player and a person, I know why I’m here,” said Foles, 29, who is scheduled to make his preseason debut Thursday night at New England, where he might encounter a few (thousand) vengeful Patriots fans. “I think the most important is that I know why.”
In a rugged NFC, Foles’ presence abates much of the angst, especially here, that would otherwise accompany a franchise quarterback’s uncertain status. Other injuries bedevil the Eagles’ offense — a lower-body ailment for receiver Nelson Agholor, offseason shoulder surgery for receiver Alshon Jeffery — and have compromised their ability to develop on-field timing with Wentz and Foles. But none are being followed with as much intensity, even obsession, as Wentz’s.
The Eagles are adamant that his long-term health matters more than his readiness for Week 1, and it is increasingly unlikely that he will play in the preseason.
At every turn, the Eagles have stressed that Wentz is progressing according to plan without divulging with that plan is — and, in fairness, it’s unlikely they would acknowledge any setbacks. Earlier in camp Wentz participated in 11-on-11 sessions, running and cutting and everything, before the Eagles scaled back his involvement to individual drills and seven-on-seven sessions, where he could throw without the threat of linemen falling atop him.
Wentz is scheduled to be re-evaluated later this week. If permitted, he could resume 11-on-11 drills as soon as Saturday — when, with training camp complete, the news media’s viewing access will be restricted. But Wentz said he would need additional clearance to practice with contact.
Pederson said recently that the Eagles’ proprietary data indicated that Wentz was throwing harder, and more accurately.
Asked what he hoped to demonstrate to Pederson upon his return, Wentz said: “Hopefully just show him that I look comfortable, I look confident and I know I will. The reps I have gotten in seven-on-seven and everything, I feel confident in both my knee and just this team and the offense and everything. Hopefully, I can just kind of jump right back in to where I left off.”
Speaking beneath a tent beside the Eagles’ practice fields, Wentz lamented not getting more reps but conveyed an acceptance with the protocol for his knee. Ideally, Pederson said, Wentz would practice without limitations for a full week — “you would love to have more” — before facing Atlanta.
Still, his standing on the team remains unchanged. “That’s my quarterback,” Agholor said of Wentz, “so I know he’s going to do what he needs to do.”
Wentz showed as much as a third-string rookie in 2016, when he broke a rib in the Eagles’ first preseason game and did not play for another month — until the season opener. The circumstances were different then, noted Wentz, who ascended to starter only when Philadelphia traded Sam Bradford a week before the season started.
Wentz approaches every day as if he will play, even though he recognizes that he might not.
“I just go by how I feel,” he said. “I feel good.”