Suddenly, Nate Sudfeld matters.
Coverage of the Eagles' quarterbacking drama this summer has focused on whether Carson Wentz and his left knee will be cleared to start the season opener Sept. 6, or Nick Foles will get to reprise his playoff role, as the Super Bowl LII banner is raised at Lincoln Financial Field.
But a couple of things happened this week. First, it became clear that there is a real medical question around increased risk of reinjury, should Wentz play a little less than nine months after ACL and LCL surgery. Wentz increasingly seems to acknowledge the need to defer to the medical staff on this. And then Foles suffered an injury to his passing shoulder in Thursday night's preseason loss to the host New England Patriots.
Foles got an MRI Friday but results were not released. There likely won't be an official update until Eagles coach Doug Pederson addresses reporters on Sunday. At the very least, the rest of Foles' preseason is endangered, and his availability for the first regular-season game is in question.
Can Sudfeld see himself taking the opening-night reins?
"I'm not worried about that," Sudfeld said after completing 22 of 39 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that bounced off his receiver's hands against the Patriots. "I was very glad to be able to play so much tonight, but there's still things I'd like to clean up. I know my job is to be ready and to continue to develop and bring guys along and be a good teammate, so my focus is just one day at a time."
Back in the spring, coaches identified Sudfeld as a player they needed to get a better read on in this training camp and preseason. They'd picked him up after the 2017 preseason, when the Redskins tried to slip their 2016 sixth-round pick through waivers onto their practice squad. Initially, the Eagles offered only a practice squad berth as well, but they sweetened the deal by paying Sudfeld his full salary, as if he were on the roster. Then they officially brought him aboard last Nov. 1, when the Colts came knocking. His only game action came in the meaningless regular-season finale against the Cowboys.
Sudfeld said that after spending his rookie season on the Washington roster, he wasn't expecting last September's attempted demotion, wasn't expecting to start over elsewhere.
"The first split second I was like, 'Man, what's going on? Am I not the player I think I am?' But I think it was really good for me to just kind of swallow my pride and get back to just working hard, early mornings, late nights, trying to make sure I was turning every stone," he said. "After a couple of initial thoughts, I was like, 'I know I can do this. I know I can do this at a high level.' Being around this environment with these coaches and players really helped me, too. I feel like I was really able to flourish … The last year has been big in my development."
>> PODCAST: Reviewing the Eagles' second preseason game
Sudfeld, 6-foot-6, 227 pounds, from Indiana, is 32 for 53 (60.4 percent) for 452 yards, through two preseason games, with five touchdowns and three interceptions, only one of which was really his fault. He has a 95.8 passer rating.
This is the most extended look Sudfeld has gotten in three NFL preseasons; his three TD passes Thursday night equaled his total in eight Washington preseason games in 2016 and 2017, playing behind Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.
"One of the biggest differences is getting reps. I didn't get very many reps at the last place," Sudfeld said Thursday night. "It makes sense; I'm not bitter about it or anything, I had two great quarterbacks ahead of me … But I think just getting reps and being able to make a mistake and come back from it, knowing that you're going to get opportunities kind of eases your mind. You can go out there and kind of trust what you see, try to make throws, and if you make a mistake, just show that you can bounce back."
Sudfeld started the Eagles' preseason opener, which Foles missed because of a trap-neck muscle strain. Thursday he came in with 12 minutes and 35 seconds left in the second quarter, after the Foles shoulder injury, and played until 1:07 remained in the game, when Joe Callahan got the final series. Sudfeld spoke of how it was "really fun to kind of get into a rhythm and see different looks and kind of think thoughts early in the game and act on them later," the way a real starting quarterback does.
He has shown an amazing touch on long balls down the sideline, especially with second-year wideout Shelton Gibson. They hit for 63 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh, then, Thursday, Gibson's five catches for 90 yards included a 57-yarder from Sudfeld.
>> READ MORE: Eagles-Patriots: What we learned | Jeff McLane
Gibson said his bond with Sudfeld began in warm-ups before last season's opener at Washington. Both players were inactive, and they decided to do extra work together, a routine they built upon as the season progressed. They became "Suddy" and "Gibby."
"We just built that chemistry every single day," Gibson said.
Gibson nodded enthusiastically when a questioner brought up the way Sudfeld seems to be able to softly drop long heaves into receivers' hands.
"He always talks about — 'They sleep on my go ball, they sleep on my go ball' — I'm like, 'I don't sleep on it. I know you're going to put it out there for me and I'm going to go get it.' "
Sudfeld is gaining confidence and poise, both of which he might need, if the national focus is Nate Sudfeld vs. Matt Ryan in the game that kicks off the NFL season.