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What’s behind Eagles’ regressive approach to Carson Wentz in training camp? | Jeff McLane

Carson Wentz has been scaled back in practice, is it as simple as avoiding risk, or is there a setback the team isn't admitting?

#7 — Nate Sudfield and #11 Carson Wentz are changing practice field. Aug. 03, 2018 19 2018 AKIRA SUWA / For The Inquirer.
#7 — Nate Sudfield and #11 Carson Wentz are changing practice field. Aug. 03, 2018 19 2018 AKIRA SUWA / For The Inquirer.Read moreAKIRA SUWA

A week ago Saturday, Carson Wentz practiced as if he were nearing a full return. The Eagles quarterback took snaps during team drills. He worked with the first-unit offense. He planted his surgically repaired left knee into the ground, escaped from the pocket, and accelerated from pursuing defenders.

To many who had watched Wentz closely over the last two years, it was as if he had never torn ligaments in his knee last December — an assessment his coach agreed with a day later.

"I think if you didn't know he had the injury or had the brace on his leg," Doug Pederson said, "you'd probably assess that everything was good."

But that clearly hasn't been the case. The July 28 workout, ultimately, was a tease. Wentz was scaled back last Sunday and didn't participate in another team drill last week. Friday was light for the entire squad, but Wentz — sans helmet and wearing a cap — watched most of practice.

Three days into training camp, Wentz's stated goal of being ready for the season opener looked like a slam dunk. And now a week later, the biggest question of camp has only gotten more difficult to answer.

If Wentz had practiced at the same rate, and as limited as he was the last five days, there wouldn't have been any confusion about his prospects. He has said many times that he wouldn't need to play in the preseason to be ready for Week 1.

But to do so much one day, only to do so little a week later, suggested that Wentz had suffered a setback. On Wednesday, he was asked if he had experienced any swelling in his knee following Saturday.

"So far, it's been good," Wentz said.

Pederson echoed his quarterback Friday.

"No setbacks," he said. "Not at all. Nothing."

The Eagles have yet to publicly lay out the schedule for Wentz's rehabilitation, but Pederson has said several times since last Sunday that the third-year quarterback's regression in practice participation was part of the team's plan.

>> READ MORE: Eagles practice observations

Typically, there is a steady progression in rehab. In the spring, for instance, Wentz's workload increased incrementally. The same occurred during the first three days this summer.

"What you see out here is considered backwards. What we see in the building and what he does with our strength and conditioning staff is still progressive," Pederson said Friday. "It doesn't have to be every snap, every football situation for him to go forward. You know what I mean? What you see out here is only one small sort of tidbit."

To the casual fan, the ebbs and flows of Wentz's recovery and the Eagles' stops and starts in terms of his workload are just distractions until Sept. 6. If he's ready, great, and if not, a Super Bowl MVP is prepared to start.

Nick Foles hasn't looked especially sharp in camp, but he's never been a great practice quarterback. He missed all the preseason last year with an elbow injury, so a larger slate this summer should benefit the 29-year old.

But there will come a time — assuming Wentz resumes participation in 11-on-11 drills this month — when the Eagles will have to balance getting Foles ready for preseason games with preparing the starter for the season.

"When we game-plan, and we're game-plan-specific and he gets a chance to be in there, then we work," Pederson said. "But right now, seven-on-seven and the things that we're doing with the starters and Carson and all that is preparing him for that day we cross that bridge."

On Wednesday, Pederson downplayed the significance of a moment on July 28 when Wentz was nearly sandwiched between two defensive linemen and one could have fallen into his legs. But Wentz said that the Eagles wanted him confined to a "more controlled environment" afterward, and Pederson admitted two days later that exposing his quarterback was part of the reduction.

"Right now is not the time to risk that," Pederson said.

It makes sense, but why expose Wentz in the first place? The next time an Eagles quarterback wearing a red jersey gets hurt will be the first time, at least, in many years.

Wentz engaged in individual drills – a controlled environment – throughout last week, including early Friday, but when the quarterbacks went through drop drills on a separate field during special-teams work, Wentz stood idly by.

He doesn't like being a bystander. The biggest challenge with his recovery, according to some within the organization, has been reining in Wentz's competitive spirit. He has admitted as much — "Just got to listen what the doctors, coaches are saying, and just trust that plan," Wentz said. — and the Eagles simply could have been following his lead.

>> READ MORE: Taking stock in the Eagles so far through training camp | Early Birds

Until last Sunday.

"I'm sure he feels a little disappointed," Pederson said.

Wentz was originally scheduled to talk on Tuesday, but the team pushed it back a day so that he would answer questions after Pederson. The message has been relatively consistent: Wentz didn't suffer a setback, Pederson saw enough the first three days to be pleased with his progress, and decreasing his workload was part of the plan.

In other words, any speculation about Wentz is much ado about nothing. And any attempts to gather specifics about his timetable for return are useless.

"I'm not getting into the benchmarks, but we have benchmarks," Pederson said. "We have milestones. We have goals. We have whatever you want to call it down the road. We need to get to Point X, and then another Point X."

And Point X is?

"Point X will be Point X," Pederson said. "I'm not getting into that."