For someone who went mostly media-silent last year after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament, Carson Wentz sure seemed pleased to see all those cameras and questioners for the second time in little more than a month. He had spoken to reporters on April 17, and now he sauntered into the NovaCare Complex auditorium late Tuesday morning already clad in his red quarterback jersey, a black brace encasing his left knee. What exactly was he planning to do during the Eagles’ organized team activity?
“You guys will see,” he said.
And so we did. Over the first half-hour of Tuesday’s non-contact workout, Wentz was an active participant in the quarterback drills, taking a regular turn in the rotation with Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, and rookie free agent Joe Callahan. While a rather appropriate snippet of background music pulsed through the Eagles’ indoor-practice bubble — Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” — Wentz did just what the song suggested. He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet. He shuffled forward and backpedaled in the pocket. His passes were as accurate as one would have expected them to be if this were Week 8 of the regular season.
“He’s looking good,” tackle Lane Johnson said. “He’s confident.” He moved without hesitation or trouble, as if he were determined to show that he could move without hesitation or trouble.
We saw it. Everyone did.
“I’m always antsy this time of year,” he said.
Well, yes, but this is a different year with different circumstances, no? In 2015, during his senior season at North Dakota State, Wentz missed eight games with a broken wrist, but not only did he return for the FCS national championship game, he helped the Bison win it. Last year, though, he was relegated to the sideline for the Eagles’ final three regular-season games and their entire postseason, a spectator as Nick Foles led the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory, and because he has not yet been cleared to practice, Wentz was left to watch Foles again once the drills stopped and 11-on-11s began Tuesday. Only this time, Wentz made sure to remove his knee brace, position himself near a row of orange Gatorade jugs, and begin jumping straight in the air from standstill starts, bending his knees into a squat with each landing. We could see it. Everyone could.
Wentz and Foles, passing together: pic.twitter.com/y6AO6Sm8Yn
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) May 22, 2018
Carson Wentz participating in individual drills: pic.twitter.com/VbpmENRb7o
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) May 22, 2018
“With any injury, you might feel like you’re on the outside looking in, but he’s not that type of guy,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s right in the mix. He’s in that quarterback room. He’s in that offensive room. He’s in my office. We’re talking. We’re still talking about plays and situations. So he’s very much involved. … Yeah, he’s still leading the team.”
“I just feel that’s kind of who I am and how I’m made up,” Wentz said. “None of it is really forced. It just kind of happens.”
It usually does, but watching Wentz on Tuesday, one came away thinking that he had made a deliberate effort to reassert himself — and that he had believed such an effort was necessary. None of this is to suggest that the Eagles have a budding quarterback controversy here. Foles is about as egoless as a Super Bowl MVP gets, and he himself affirmed last month that this is Wentz’s team and that Wentz will become the starter again once his knee allows him. But it is to suggest that Wentz is still a young quarterback, not yet in his third NFL season, and that he is naturally competitive and territorial when it comes to reestablishing himself as the leader of the Eagles’ offense and as an ascendant superstar in the league.
That competitiveness could create a delicate situation for Pederson and the Eagles’ other coaches to handle early this season. Suppose, for instance, that Wentz isn’t back to full strength in time for the season opener, on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons. Should the Eagles start him anyway, even in if his knee is at, say, 80 percent? What would be the right time to insert him back into the lineup?
The obvious answer is that Wentz should sit until his knee is completely healthy, that Foles is an ideal insurance policy for such a situation. But it’s easier to make that argument in theory than it is to carry it out in practice. Wentz will want to return to the field as soon as possible, and on Tuesday, he wanted everyone to know that he is doing everything he can to return to the field as soon as possible, because this is supposed to be his team, and he is supposed to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback, now and for years to come, just in case anyone might have forgotten.
We saw it Tuesday. Everyone did. Everyone was supposed to, including his coaches and teammates. Maybe them most of all.