July 28, 2018
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is just over seven months removed from tearing his left ACL and LCL, yet you wouldn't be able tell that from watching him practice, in full, over the first few days of training camp. And perhaps that, more than anything else being said about Wentz's leg strength and mobility, should be the most reassuring thing Eagles fans can hear with a little more than a month before the Week 1 kicks off on September 6 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Immediately following the end of the NFL season — which culminated in a Super Bowl victory, by the way — it seemed like backup-turned-starter-turned-Super-Bowl-MVP Nick Foles would be the guy opening the regular season while Wentz completed his rehab. However, it's beginning to look like won't be the case, as the third-year quarterback out of North Dakota State looks like he could play tomorrow if the Birds had a game.
Wentz has been participating in 11-on-11's and practicing with the first-team offense, even if the team's official stance is not to read too much into first- and second-team reps at this point. He's been throwing on the run, airing it out and at times doing a bit of both, all while displaying the arm strength and accuracy that drove opposing defenses crazy over the first 14 weeks of the 2017 season.
Is is so crazy to think we may see him on the field for one of the Birds' four preseason games? Not if you've watched him practice this week.
By now, you've probably read Jimmy Kempski's practice notes, in which he speculates that Wentz could see some action before Week 1. That's something no one thought would be possible when the severity of Wentz's injury became known.
It's also why Wentz's faster-than-expected recovery has been the dominant storyline so far.
So dominant, in fact, that even head coach Doug Pederson felt the need to stop by new offensive coordinator Mike Groh's first press conference of camp to ask a question about the recovery of his franchise quarterback.
I love how Doug’s question made the Eagles’ official press conference transcript: pic.twitter.com/2MiOTBtw5j— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) July 28, 2018
It's safe to assume that Pederson wouldn't be making jokes like that if there was any reason at all for concern. And why should there be?
Not only has Wentz looked healthier than expected, but he doesn't look like he was ever injured in the first place, save for the black brace on his surgically-repaired left knee.
[Note: I'd love to show you video of Wentz rolling out and bombing one down the field in 11-on-11's, but photography isn't allowed during that portion of practice.]
"I thought he did a nice job operating in there," Groh said of Wentz. "He looks comfortable. Just settled right back into the saddle. So, really pleased with where he is right now."
Now that he's back in 11-on-11 drills, the final hurdle standing between Wentz and a return to game action is being cleared by doctors for contact. In the meantime, it appears the only real concern is something happening before the team runs through the tunnel and out onto the field to face the Falcons.
In theory, that shouldn't be much of a problem, especially if he doesn't appear in any of the preseason games. Quarterbacks wear red practice jerseys for a reason — they're off limits — and the Eagles are taking extra precautions when Wentz is under center. However, they also don't want that to take away from the players using these reps for their intended purposes: getting better.
"I think we have to be very mindful of where he is, and I think our defense is," Groh said when asked about how the team is treating Wentz when he's on the practice field. "I know [defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz has addressed it with those guys. Everybody knows we want to get everybody in the first game.
"Obviously, we're out here to improve and get better and work on our craft, but we also want to try to keep everybody healthy. We've got a veteran team that knows how to practice, so I think we'll be able to accomplish that."
Assuming Wentz doesn't suffer any setbacks, there's every reason to believe that he will be the one leading the Eagles out of the tunnel. And when he does, there is going to be an arsenal of aerial weapons — some new, others improved — at the young quarterback's disposal.
On Saturday, Groh was asked about several of those players. Here's a look at what he had to say:
How's TE Dallas Goedert's knowledge of the offense? When you're putting him out there, from a mental standpoint, how is he handling it?
MIKE GROH: Dallas is really smart. He's mature. Really doesn't say boo. He speaks when spoken to. He's in there taking notes. You saw him show up and make some plays down the field today, which was encouraging.
Beyond TE Zach Ertz and Dallas, who else from that tight end group has impressed you most, thus far?
I'm really impressed with the entire group, to be honest with you. Top to bottom, everybody looks like they've improved. Put a lot of time in over the course of the summer. They all came in in great shape. They're limited in their mental errors, they’re assignment sound right now. Making plays when the ball comes to them, they’re all big targets [and] all of them can run. It's up to us to try and find a role for them.
What is the next step in WR Nelson Agholor’s game?
We all try to get a little bit better each and every day. I think that Nelson had a tremendous year. So, just looking to become a little bit more consistent with everything that we're doing, and really raising each and every skill that we defined last year and refined, trying to develop that and get a little bit better. If you put it in kind of golf terms, hitting it a little bit further down the fairway, a little bit straighter, a little bit closer to the pin. But we're talking really, really fine things here. Nothing that probably the average fan would notice.
Nelson is one of our most diligent workers. One of the first people in the building. He knows exactly what he wants to get done each and every day. Asks the right questions; he's locked in; can run all day; loves ball; he's in tremendous shape; and just a great teammate.
It seems you're still playing him mostly in the slot. Is that the plan going forward or would you like to see him move around?
I think we'll move him around, particularly as you get into game planning. Right now, we're installing. We’re throwing everything in right now. And then we start boiling it down as we get closer to playing games and we're trying to figure out what everybody does really well. So, as you start moving guys around a ton, it disrupts the rhythm a little bit for them. But once we get the offense in, we'll be able to do some more from a game plan standpoint.
WR Mack Hollins has been getting first-team reps with WR Alshon Jeffery out. Is there any advantage for him getting first-team reps as opposed to being with the second team if Alshon were here?
So many questions have been about Nick and Carson, and we're rotating those guys. Regardless of what huddle you're in, either the first or second, you're getting reps with our top-two quarterbacks right now. I think from that standpoint, there is a conformability with Mack and them. But anytime you walk in there and you step in the first huddle, I think you've got to be on your stuff. And Mack has done that here from day one, even as a rookie. He's going about his business the right way and he's one of the players that has position flexibility for us; has great toughness. Again, loves football. You don't have to ask him to do anything. He's going to do it on his own. He's just got to keep getting better like all second-year players.
Back in the spring, Doug kind of singled out WR Greg Ward as a young player who really made big strides. How has he been in that transition? Obviously, a former college quarterback, seemed to flash today. (John McMullen)
Greg has come in, and just like a lot of quarterbacks, he's got that quarterback mentality. He's used to being in the building early, staying late. Watches a bunch of tape on his own. He kind of is shadowing Nelson [Agholor] a lot with a lot of things he's doing and doing a tremendous job of that. As he has made that transition, you see him get more and more comfortable. Not thinking as much about playing the position of wide receiver. Just reacting off what the defense is doing. He has excellent short-area quickness, really soft hands, reliable hands. He can lock the ball up in traffic and transition quickly to a runner. So, we're excited about Greg and his potential.
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