With a brace covering his twice-surgically repaired left knee, Sam Bradford participated in individual passing drills with the other three Eagles quarterbacks during organized team activities.
But when practice progressed to seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills, Bradford became a bystander.
The presumed starting quarterback was a limited participant Thursday at the NovaCare Complex, as he has been all week. Coach Chip Kelly said that Bradford is "right on schedule" in his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He suffered the injury twice in a 10-month span.
Kelly broke down the rehabilitation process into three parts: "medical rehab," "performance rehab" and "prepared to play." Bradford is at the tail end of the first stage and is expected to throw in seven-on-sevens next week, the coach said.
"I think overall the process, it's taken a little longer the second time around," Bradford said in his first public comments in more than two months. "From everyone I talked to, they said it's normal. They say that's what to expect. I think it really has gotten a lot better in the past two months. . . . As long as we continue to progress and don't have any setbacks, I feel very comfortable with where my knee's at right now."
The Eagles acquired Bradford in a March trade for Nick Foles and a 2016 second-round pick. The move carried risk because of Bradford's injury history, but the Eagles are optimistic that he can thrive in Kelly's offense. He must be healthy to do it, though.
"I'm not 100 percent confident in anything. No one is," Kelly said. "Can you predict the future? If so, we'll go to Belmont. . . . We think Sam has a great skill set. The research our doctors have given us in terms of the guys coming off those injuries in terms of their recovery rate, is 90 percent so we feel real confident in that."
That did not appear to stop the Eagles from making a run at Marcus Mariota on draft day. Widespread trade rumors included Bradford's name. The quarterback was not oblivious to the speculation but said he did not pay attention to it.
"I felt pretty comfortable all along, just in the conversations I had with Chip from the beginning," Bradford said.
Bradford sidestepped questions about his contract and whether he's interested in a long-term deal with the team. A former No. 1 overall pick, Bradford has one year remaining on a deal that will pay him $12.985 million this season. He said that any discussions would be up to his agent and the team's front office, and that he would play on a lame-duck deal.
"If they don't offer anything or we don't talk about it, then that's what I'm going to do," Bradford said.
His focus now is on his rehabilitation. Bradford said there has been a positive turn in the last six to eight weeks. There was a recent period in which Bradford's activity stalled, which he said was "part of the plan."
"I don't think it was necessarily a scale-back," Bradford said. "I think they wanted to push it and see how it responded. I think it responded well. They knew it could handle it. But we just took it back because we had an extra amount of time."
Bradford must adjust to a new offensive scheme and a different tempo with new teammates. Kelly said Bradford's absence from team drills does not set him back because of "the way Sam approaches things." Quarterback Matt Barkley said Bradford is "mentally challenging" the other quarterbacks in the meeting room.
When Bradford returns, Kelly said he would need to compete for the starting job. It's a curious statement considering the compensation the Eagles surrendered in the trade and the salary they will pay Bradford this season. But Kelly considers the situation more comparable to 2013, when Michael Vick and Nick Foles split snaps in a quarterback competition, than 2014, when Foles was the unquestioned starter throughout the spring and summer.
That debate can be tabled until Bradford is a full participant in practices. Until then, Mark Sanchez will take the first-team snaps. Bradford admitted there are reasons for doubt considering his injury history but said he cannot worry about skepticism and is trying to get healthy.
"I think I get more comfortable out here every day," Bradford said. "Obviously, it would be nice to get out there and take some live, and I think we're progressing toward that. And I think once I'm out there taking some reps in seven-on-seven or in team, things will really start to come together."