Carson Wentz will be sidelined for the Eagles' preseason opener on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he might not take a snap in a preseason game during the three weeks thereafter. But for Wentz, the goal remains unchanged: He wants to play Week 1, which is less than one month away.
"I don't think it's a big hurdle for me," Wentz said Tuesday about missing the preseason. "Would I love to be out there on Thursday? Absolutely, I'd love to play every day. But for me personally, I think I'll be fine if I don't get out there."
Wentz remains a partial participant in practice while returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He participates in individual and 7-on-7 drills, but he's left as an observer for full-team drills. This has been the pattern for the last eight practices after he was a full participant to begin training camp. The Eagles scaled back his work after the third day, wanting to keep Wentz in a controlled environment and away from the possibility of any contact or collision. It is expected to remain this way until Wentz receives full medical clearance.
"I think for next week, it's going to be the same type of routine," Wentz said. "And then, keep talking with the docs, coaches, and make a plan as we go. But again, just trust what they say."
Wentz admitted it's "frustrating" not participating, especially because he "felt great" when he was allowed to do everything. The competitor in him wants to practice, but Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman, and the medical and training staffs have put together the plan the Eagles are now using.
"It was fun to be out there," Wentz said. "But just trust what the doctors are saying. Without a doubt, it's tough to be out there and watch. … It's not what I'd like, but I'm making the most of it."
The bad news for the Eagles is they must wait for the medical clearance, which is out of their hands. The good news is that Wentz has impressed at every turn — even when watching him during the drills in which he's permitted to participate. His passes have velocity. He moves without issue. Like Pederson said earlier in the camp, if one didn't know he was injured, one wouldn't know he was injured. Wentz said his "arm feels strong," his mechanics are sound, and he does not feel like he's lost a step. The key for the Eagles has been finding a way to keep his body and mind fresh.
"It's a little bit of a challenge, and I say that because he's engaged for about seven, eight, nine, 10 plays and then he doesn't get the 11-on-11 work," Pederson said. "So for us, it's about attacking each period that he's in, whether it's the individual work or the 7-on-7s. Just detailing the work. He has to approach it like it's game week. I just keep talking to him that way.…We're not going to let anything slide; from his decision making to accuracy of throws, feeling the pocket, even though it's 7-on-7s, timing, rhythm, all of that is part of the game. We just keep talking to him and putting him in those situations."
It would not be a surprise if Wentz misses the preseason even if he's cleared. Ever since March, the messaging from the team was that Wentz would not necessarily need the preseason. It's something Wentz has reiterated before, even before discussing it on Tuesday. In 2016, Wentz was injured in the preseason opener, missed the next three games and returned to start Week 1. He knows the offense. He's played with many of the top offensive players. So he should be able to step in Week 1 if he's cleared. He might not have his rhythm and timing down until he gets ample work with his teammates, though.
"It can be a rhythm game, you kind of get in a groove and everything," Wentz said. "But that's kind of the challenge I have right now. It's kind of like being on the sideline for a long period time in a game, a long drive from the other team or something like that. Sometimes it just helps to find the rhythm, and right now I've got to get the most of it."
Of course, this is only a short period in what the Eagles are expecting to be a long career. Like Pederson said at the beginning, he and Wentz are "married" in this organization. The Eagles extended Pederson's contract on Sunday, locking the coach up through 2022. Wentz has two years left on his current deal and a fifth-year option, and the Eagles could try to extend his contract after this season. Until that happens, Wentz responded to Pederson's extension with good humor.
"I went up to him right away when I heard the news and said, 'I can't wait to be a free agent,' " Wentz said. "I was kidding, obviously. But I'm stoked for Doug. He deserves it."