ORLANDO – Carson Wentz will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback when he returns from a major knee injury, although the “when” remains an ongoing question.
The Eagles are pleased with Wentz’s progress from a torn anterior cruciate ligament while he rehabs daily at the team facility. Coach Doug Pederson explained why he believed Wentz is ahead of schedule before emphasizing that there’s no definite timetable for his return to the field. The hope remains that Wentz will be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, but Pederson suggested Wentz might not play in the preseason.
“Very encouraged with where he’s at, the direction he’s headed,” Pederson said Tuesday at the NFL meetings. “It’s day-by-day. I’m not rushing him, by no means. He’s working extremely hard, obviously, trying to get himself ready to go. But really, no timetable. I’m not going to push him out there if he’s not ready, much like we did with Sidney [Jones]. I don’t want to rush him back; make sure he’s 100 percent. But knowing Carson, he’s going to try to maybe get out there sooner than later. But be smart with it, make good decisions. But right now, really encouraged in the direction he’s heading.”
Pederson does not expect Wentz to participate in any on-field portion of the offseason workouts, including individual drills. Wentz posted video of himself passing at the team facility last week on social media. He dropped back and stepped forward while wearing a brace on his left knee. He also threw passes before the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld will be the top quarterbacks during organized team activities, with Sudfeld likely to “get a lot of reps,” Pederson said. The Eagles will use that time to develop their No. 3 quarterback because there will be fewer practice snaps once Wentz returns. Sudfeld was signed before Week 1 last season and did not have an offseason or training camp with the team, so Pederson said the heavy workload this spring will allow Sudfeld to continue adjusting to the offense.
Foles will take the first-team snaps before being relegated to the No. 2 job whenever Wentz returns. That might be difficult for a Super Bowl MVP. Pederson does not anticipate a problem.
“That’s obviously probably a Nick question. But I know Nick and his mentality, and I think he’s fine with that,” Pederson said. “He understands it’s Carson’s team. He knew that last year. But he did embrace his role and did it superbly. Moving forward, I think he’s going to be OK.”
Pederson said he will trust his training staff to keep the reins on Wentz, who will be eager to return to the field. Wentz has been at the facility “every day” and has progressed to walking in the team’s pool.
Wentz’s return to practice will be gradual. Pederson is spending time this spring thinking about how he’ll integrate Wentz into individual drills and 7-on-7 workouts while making sure he has a safe throwing pocket without risk of tripping over a teammate or falling to the ground.
“When we get to that point with Carson when we can cut him loose, it will be a slow process,” Pederson said. “One, there’s probably going to be a period of him just getting back into quarterback shape — let’s say, moving around in the pocket, guys kind of falling around his legs, things of that nature, just getting that comfort back.”
That could mean that the Eagles keep Wentz sidelined in preseason games regardless of his progress. Wentz is in his third year in the offensive system, returns his top three weapons, has the same play-caller and same center. There is value in working at game speed with new teammates and absorbing a hit, but that doesn’t necessarily need to come in an exhibition game. Pederson noted that Wentz missed most of the preseason as a rookie and still started Week 1.
“I think he can get the work done in practice, quite honestly,” Pederson said. “He did it his first year, you know. So we’ll see where it’s at when we get there. It’s hard to speculate on that, but I just know Carson and how well he’s going to work and prepare and be in position to be [successful]. He doesn’t want to go out there and not be ready.”
Wentz’s health will remain the biggest storyline throughout the offseason, with “when” the biggest question. And though there’s no timetable, the hope remains that Wentz takes the Eagles’ first snap in the Sept. 6 opener.
“I don’t necessarily need him in preseason,” Pederson said. “I need him ready for Week 1.”