Wentz looks like a good bet for Eagles' opener
PHILADELPHIA—Midway through Mike Groh's scheduled press conference Saturday, July 28, a tall man wearing a Philadelphia Eagles visor stepped up from the rear of the tent that adjoins the NovaCare practice fields. Holding a half-eaten cup of water ice like a microphone, the man asked the Eagles' offensive coordinator a question about quarterback Carson Wentz.
"Coach, I know you don't really want to put a timetable on Carson, but what's the timetable?"
"That's a really good question. I'd just defer to Doug Pederson on that," Groh said.
Cue laughter, because the guy with the visor and the water ice was, in fact, Doug Pederson.
But it is the question, made even more relevant by Wentz's full participation Saturday in the first day of padded training camp practice, featuring "thud" contact — hitting but no tackling to the ground. A few times, traffic swirled around Wentz's feet. He neatly stepped out of the fray, then sprinted away from defenders. Sprinted the way we saw him sprint this time a year ago.
People who follow the team knew the NFL Network report early in the week about Wentz possibly starting camp on PUP seemed unlikely, because he was already working seven-on-seven when spring workouts ended.
But the assumption was that Wentz, the North Dakota State standout from Bismarck, would be limited, that he wouldn't be able to do everything, and that when he did take the field, wearing that black brace on his repaired left knee, observers would have to take into account that Wentz was only seven months removed from surgery to his ACL and LCL ligaments, Wentz's season having ended on Dec. 10 against the Rams.
No and no.
Asked if there was anything, in terms of practice, that Wentz can't do now, Groh said there was not. "He's been in everything. You're exactly right."
"He looks comfortable," Groh said. "Just settled right back into the saddle ... to have Carson there—in some people's minds ahead of schedule, but I know that was his target date—we're excited to have him out there and working. It's only going to make everybody better."
Four days ago, Wentz's goal of starting the season opener, Sept. 6 against the Falcons, seemed ambitious. Now it seems almost inevitable.
Groh said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has talked to his players about being careful around Wentz, who has not been cleared for contact; contact with red-jerseyed quarterbacks is never allowed, but 11-on-11, in pads, with hitting, somebody could fall into somebody, and so on.
"We've got a veteran team that knows how to practice," Groh said.
Wentz is next scheduled to speak with reporters on Tuesday. Teammates said they are encouraged by his strong start, and they aren't too worried about anything terrible happening.
Center Jason Kelce agreed that Wentz "looks great."
"He's running around, throwing on the move, doing all the things that ... I don't know if the coaches are designing it this way, but it doesn't look like they're holding him back. They're doing plays of movement, having him test out that leg. It's good," Kelce said.
"Right now, it's in a very controlled environment. It's not tackle to the ground, even though there might be some plays where guys are falling down, that's very few and far between. Not only is it good for us to get some reps with him to maintain that chemistry, it's also good for him to go out there and begin that process of feeling more comfortable, feeling stronger on the leg, and all that stuff."
Right tackle Lane Johnson said that Wentz "has got an edge to him right now."
"The way he's moving, he's not favoring that leg, he's mobile, he's throwing on the run," Johnson said. "It's really impressive to watch."
Before camp began, one of the questions was whether Wentz would be able to work much with the first team, and develop, say, timing with new wide receiver Mike Wallace. Wentz worked extensively with the first team on Saturday.
"It was good to see that the pocket collapsed one time, and him get out of there, scramble and run. He looked good," Wallace said. "Obviously, he has some rust to knock off, just like the rest of us, but he made some great throws today, too ... I think he's thinking free, like he's not worried about his knee."
Wentz walked off the practice field with one of his closest friends, tight end Zach Ertz.
"I'm not surprised. I've seen him train all summer, the way he attacked the summer, the way he attacked the entire offseason," Ertz said.
Though fans might be tempted to want to swaddle Wentz in bubble wrap until September, Ertz said the QB, even if he can't take hits yet, needs to see pressure in his face, can't get ready for the season without work that feels like real football.
"Those guys are in a red shirt for a reason. But, at the same time, the pocket's not always going to be clean. It rarely is," Ertz said. "There's going to be times you've got to move off your spot, off your line."
Defensive end Michael Bennett speculated (facetiously) that Wentz must have taken a long trip to get the blood platelet therapy made famous several years ago by a basketball star recovering from a knee injury.
"Obviously he's probably got some of that Kobe Bryant [bleep] in his knee, so he's probably feeling pretty good," Bennett said. "He probably went to Germany or Switzerland or some [bleep] because he's looking really good out there."