There were no limitations for Carson Wentz, and no obvious limitations for the Eagles, as they began work toward the return to Super Bowl form that many fans and observers anticipate.
Wentz told reporters Thursday that two years marred by injury gave him a strong appreciation for being able to do everything with his teammates in the first practice of training camp, at the NovaCare Complex.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he appreciated starting camp with Wentz full-go and with only one player on the active/physically unable to perform list – cornerback Jalen Mills, who said he wasn’t sure when his foot injury might allow him to join the team on the field.
Last year’s opening of camp was quite different for the then-defending Super Bowl champs, who hadn’t had much time to rest and heal.
Mills can come off the list at any time, but by starting him there, the team reserves the right to have him begin the regular season on PUP. That would require sitting out the first six weeks but wouldn’t require the use of an injured-reserve slot.
Not everyone was full-go. Several rehabbing Eagles worked on a field adjacent to where the bulk of the team was practicing. But since none of them can now be placed on PUP, management must be confident they’ll play sometime early in the season, if not Week 1.
As he kicked off his fourth NFL training camp, Wentz said there was a time when he might have found such work monotonous.
“Before the injury, it’s something you take for granted,” Wentz said. “You appreciate it more. It’s exciting to get out here Day 1 and get going right away.”
Pederson noted that Wentz “was off on the side doing his thing” instead of being front and center when camp commenced a year ago. Pederson said he would monitor the number of throws made by each of the quarterbacks, but there will be no special restrictions for Wentz.
Wentz indicated he expects to play in the preseason, though he was careful to say that will be Pederson’s call.
Wentz’s health is sure to endure as the story of the season, after last year’s back injury sidelined him for the stretch drive and playoffs. That still-mysterious setback was a dismal twist in Wentz’s comeback from the knee injury that had ended his 2017 season, a couple of months before Super Bowl LII.
This time around, every hit the quarterback takes, every wince, every trace of a limp will signify Code Red across the Philadelphia area, especially since Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is in Jacksonville and inexperienced Nate Sudfeld is Wentz’s backup.
Wentz has seen strong scrutiny and pressure ever since the Eagles traded up twice to draft him second overall in 2016, but this is another level, surely. Especially when you add in the perceived improvement of the roster, and predictions of another Lombardi Trophy.
“Every season has expectations. Every season has pressure. I don’t think it’s really that much different, in that regard,” Wentz said. “There’s always pressure. Whether there’s this much [holding his hand high] or this much [lowering his hand a few feet], it doesn’t really change, at least for me, the way I approach it.”
He noted “a lot of excitement, as there always is.”
Wentz said he lost a little weight this offseason but that was not his focus. He was aiming for a healthier lifestyle. “I’ve ‘leaned out,’ ” he said.
Had Wentz not signed a four-year, $128 million extension this spring, contract speculation would have been a recurring theme of the season, but Wentz said the deal didn’t change much for him.
“I don’t play for that. I don’t come to work every day because of those things,” he said. “It is nice that it’s behind us.”
Wentz and new target DeSean Jackson seemed to frolic through the light practice, connecting several times. Wentz wore no knee brace or back padding, just the usual sleeve on his throwing arm.
“I’ve never played with somebody quite of that speed,” Wentz said of Jackson, who returns to where he spent his first six NFL seasons before he was cast into the wilderness by Chip Kelly.
Sudfeld said he was confident Wentz will deliver, but Wentz, Pederson, and Sudfeld all talked about how the team has to jell, emphasizing that Wentz’s talent and health — and the talent and current good health around him — won’t guarantee a trip to Miami and Super Bowl LIV.
“I think Carson’s going to have a huge year. He looks strong and healthy and confident,” Sudfeld said. “I think he’s done a really good job investing in his body. I’m just excited. I think he’s smart, going into Year 4, kind of been around the block a little bit. Had a lot of great stuff, some adversity, He’s in a good place for a great year.
“But like [center Jason Kelce] said when he broke [the post-practice huddle] down, it’s not about the talent; there’s a lot of talented people. It’s all about the team coming together.”
Pederson was asked to compare his 2019 talent with what he has opened camp with in previous seasons.
“It’s obviously out there,” he said. “Talent can get you so far, but how well do we jell as a football team? That’s my concern, and my goal.”