If Carson Wentz is to play in the Eagles’ season opener — his goal as he reiterated on Tuesday — then the quarterback is about halfway through his rehabilitation from a knee injury.
But Wentz, who tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee on Dec 10, said he wasn’t any closer to knowing if such a speedy return was possible. He has started a “running progression” and said he was pleased with his progress, but there are still 142 days and many hurdles to clear until Sept. 6.
“I’m feeling good with where I’m at. Just trying to stay the course,” Wentz said. “But, like I said late last season, it’s such a fluid process. It’s so hard to put a time frame and a timetable on these things. I wish I knew, as well.”
The questions about Wentz’s return will only amplify as the Eagles near the customary Thursday night opener for defending champions. But few concrete answers were expected at this date even if it had been almost three months since Wentz last spoke with reporters.
The Eagles kicked off their offseason workout program Monday, but they’re still weeks from actual practice. And even when the players take the field in May, Wentz won’t be under center with the first-team offense. Backup Nick Foles will fill that role through the spring, just as he did during the Eagles’ remarkable Super Bowl run.
But Foles, who recently said that he wanted another opportunity to be a starting quarterback, is likely to stay there into the summer during training camp and the preseason, and possibly into the season. Under different circumstances, there could be the potential for awkwardness between Wentz and Foles. To each player’s credit, they have thus far avoided such pitfalls.
“Obviously, it was pretty different, but pretty special,” Wentz said of his dynamic with Foles last season. “I think him and I — I know it’s been well-documented — but we’ve been so close ever since he first got here. Just developed a real friendship, real relationship, more than just a working relationship.”
Their closeness made it easier for Wentz to fight natural feelings of jealousy. He spoke in late January of the challenges of taking a backseat and watching his replacement and teammates reach the title game without him, but winning the Super Bowl placed those feelings in another context.
“It’s human nature to want to be on that podium, to be that guy. You grow up wanting to do that as a kid,” Wentz said. “But to not be able to be up there — I wouldn’t rather have anybody else be up there but Nick.”
Wentz said he learned a lot about humility. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Eagles, in turn, learned a lot about their starting quarterback, who was having an MVP-caliber campaign until he went down in Los Angeles.
“I know a lot of guys gained an awful amount of respect for him staying engaged because, quite frankly, being in the league as long as I have, a lot of times even the best-meaning people, when they can’t be involved in it, they sometimes check out,” Jenkins said.
Foles was signed to be the backup, but he, too, will have to check his ego once Wentz returns. And make no mistake about it, the Eagles are Wentz’s team. Having him out front on Tuesday, even though Foles will be the guy in the spring, was likely by design. Not that it could have mattered to either quarterback.
“Those guys have no egos, especially Nick,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “That guy is as about as cool as they come. He’s a phenomenal teammate.”
On Monday, Foles said during a radio interview in Texas that he wanted to get another shot at starting. But he also said that he was comfortable backing up Wentz. The Eagles have explored the idea of trading Foles this offseason, but the offers haven’t yet matched their demands.
The price has been high, in part because coach Doug Pederson might need Foles into the regular season. And if there is an argument for having two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the roster, the Eagles made a strong case last season.
“Nick is not a guy that’s going to demand anything,” Ertz said. “Obviously, he could do something in the best interest of his career down the road. But right now, the guy just loves being in Philadelphia.”
There is always the risk of injury, but Wentz’s playing style has placed him in greater danger. He might not be as mobile when he initial returns – a notion Wentz said he didn’t exactly subscribe to — but will he have to alter his aggressive style of play?
“I’m not going to change,” Wentz said. “I think I’m always going to learn. I know even from first year to second year, I thought I learned quite a bit on how to protect myself.”
Wentz has been down the injury road before. He broke his right wrist during his senior season of college and returned in time to win a second Division I-AA national title, and he was back for the opener of his rookie season despite fracturing ribs in his first NFL preseason game. He said he won’t push too hard with the knee, though.
“You’ve seen the horror stories of people coming back too soon and those things,” Wentz said. “I can assure you I’ll be smart.”
Asked if he needed to play in the preseason to be ready for Week 1, Wentz said, “I don’t think so.” Ertz, who is one of Wentz’s closest friends on the Eagles, said their conversations are often about football, even during their recent humanitarian trip to Haiti with reserve quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
“The guy loves the game of football,” Ertz said. “He’s passionate about the game. He still has the same mind-set as if he were able to do all of OTAs. I don’t know when he’ll come back at any means, but he looks great physically.”
Wentz doesn’t need much to motivate him, but hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in uniform rather than a sweat suit could add another chip to his shoulder. Of course, the Eagles wouldn’t have won last season without him, something Wentz alluded to when he was asked if he was going for Super Bowl No. 1 of his career or No. 2.
“I believe,” Wentz said, “we won the Super Bowl last year.”