Preventing injuries in professional football is akin to preventing seagulls on an ocean boardwalk. Maybe you can limit them by taking certain precautions — like not strolling with a french fry held aloft — but birds are going to fly and football players are going to get injured.
So far, Eagles coach Doug Pederson has elected not to play starting quarterback Carson Wentz in the preseason. It is a small sample, one game out of the four exhibitions scheduled, but Pederson has indicated he might stick with that plan.
Actually, Pederson has indicated he has no intention of revealing his plan, in case he changes his mind or whatever his motivation for not simply saying what he’s thinking.
“We still have a plan with not just him but with all of our guys and all of our starters,” Pederson said. “We don’t play the Washington Redskins for a few more weeks [the regular-season opener Sept. 8], so the goal is to get ready for that. But I have to evaluate these guys in the next couple of weeks and see if they need to play in some of these games and make decisions that way.”
In other words, we’ll see.
The logic behind not exposing Wentz to opposing players uninterested in his well-being is obvious. At training camp, the Eagles defensive players know where to stop, and it is far short of contact with the franchise quarterback.
Games are a different setting, as demonstrated last week when Tennessee defensive tackle Isaiah Mack, a third-string, undrafted free agent trying to make the team, shoved backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld unnecessarily. Sudfeld broke his left wrist as he tried to cushion the fall and will not be available for the start of the regular season.
That’s a drag, particularly for Sudfeld, but nothing like the Defcon 1 crisis that would have begun had it happened to Wentz. So, even if Pederson didn’t come right out and connect the dots, he didn’t have to. We get it. The risk/reward of playing Carson Wentz in an exhibition game is not evenly balanced.
But here’s the thing: The only way to truly prepare to play football is to play football.
Pederson knows this, and the suspicion here is that Wentz will get some action in either or both of the next two preseason games, if only to keep fans from having extended exposure to Clayton Thorson.
Wentz needs more than the work he’s getting in the controlled terrarium of training-camp practices, where he hasn’t always looked that sharp, by the way. He can’t be expected to flip a switch on Sept. 8 and suddenly be attuned to live action. Wentz will have the opportunity for a little of that in the joint practices with the Ravens before their Aug. 22 exhibition, but those are carefully controlled as well.
For real preparation, nothing substitutes for an actual game. Pederson is enough of an old-school football guy to agree with that, but he must also juggle an organizational tilt toward caution against his coaching instincts. Not to mention, the kid has been hurt a few times.
Still, there is also risk to not playing Wentz before the opener, and that risk concerns how the Eagles start the season. They have Atlanta, Green Bay, and Minnesota on the schedule among the first six games, all on the road. Teams with realistic championship aspirations — and the Eagles are one of them — need to pile up every win possible to enhance their hope of remaining home in the postseason.
To win the Super Bowl, things usually have to break right, and they have to do so from the start. Getting out of the box quickly is vital. The last 10 Super Bowl winners combined to go 47-13 in the first six weeks of the season.
It isn’t that giving Wentz a quarter against the Jaguars and maybe a half against the Ravens would provide some magical jump-start. But what a quarterback needs to get ready for the real season is being jostled a little and operating against a defense other than his own. Otherwise, it’s all just football theater.
The people who like to lecture about the meaningless nature of the preseason are right as far as the games go. And, yes, losing Wentz on a stupid play, the way Sudfeld was lost, would be brutally bad luck. That doesn’t change the fact that the team’s luck will be tested sooner or later. It is either their year or it isn’t. Tip-toeing toward the regular season doesn’t change anything.