NFL 2019: Carson Wentz brings energy to Eagles practice, along with hope that history won't repeat itself
Wentz, coming off injuries in back-to-back seasons, will make January magic of his own. It's just a matter of time ... and luck
PHILADELPHIA – Carson Wentz isn't much interested in rehashing the haze of surgery and rehab and recovery that has gripped him the past two seasons. He isn't going to recount the steps that led to him taking the field again without any restrictions on Tuesday, the stress fracture in his back from last December now sufficiently healed, while also finally free from the cumbersome brace affixed to his left knee since tearing his ACL in December 2017.
Wentz let it be known, time and time again, in as polite a manner as possible, that he isn't going to divulging much about his past or immediate future to the media. After his tribulations of the past two seasons, twice sapped of the chance to perform in the playoffs, Wentz has earned the right to live in the moment and savor each signpost in his successive recoveries. And this week – now free of any medical apparatus – clearly qualifies.
So he won't be revealing, anytime soon, the grisly details and specifics about what he's gone though, and the myriad changes and adaptations he has made to try to prevent any of this from happening again. The 26-year old quarterback has clearly been shaped and transfixed by the consecutive season-ending injuries he has suffered, soul-searching for reasons and answers and solutions to questions and riddles and equations that no one can solve. But don't expect to hear too much about it from him.
The cruel reality is that no amount of training and sculpting – upper and lower body – can absolutely fortify him from another break or tear. There is no perfect diet, search as one might, to prevent against another setback. Endless hours of introspection and meditation in the trance of rehabilitation can perhaps lead to breakthroughs in regimen and mindset, but won't make one impervious to ending up back with a physical therapist for months on end again this winter, whether the villain be his knee or back or some other part of his chiseled body.
Ultimately, a quarterback can only hope and pray – Wentz routinely attributes his strength and dedication to his religious faith – and this first day back on the practice field was a celebration of the young man's spirit and athleticism and a reminder of how fleeting all of this can be. Wentz was soaking in every sight sound and smell; even the mundane ritual of stretching seeming somehow fresh and new. He was alive, reborn in football, sprinting from field to field and drill to drill like a school kid running through the halls on the last day before summer vacation. He jumped and leaped with pent up energy on the sidelines at times, eagerly charging up coaches and teammates, burning to get back in the huddle as his backups got their scant reps. Wentz had put another injury behind him.
"Anytime you go through a struggle or adversity in life you learn something," Wentz told a city obsessed with his recovery after a practice in which his every movement was chronicled. "I'm just trying to keep pressing forward and grow."
Wentz looked spry and agile as he booted out to his right and delivered powerful passes to the sideline off his signature hop-step. He unleashed some perfect deep fades in one-on-one will drills. Things were not nearly as smooth in seven-on-seven and full team drills – "X's and O's-wise, things weren't perfect," he conceded – though that's not what this return was really about. This was about just being able to do the same things that all of his healthy teammates could, with no restrictions.
"This is the time to kind of get on the same page," head coach Doug Pederson said. "We're working through some things, schematically, offensively, defensively, on special teams. Is it important that he's out? I do think it's important that he's there working with the guys, and that is why I'm excited – that he gets a chance to do that."
Wentz is being folded back into an offense that Pederson wants to kickstart. Top outside receiver Alshon Jeffery (not practicing Tuesday and dealing with a rib injury), Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and slot receiver Nelson Agholor are holdovers, but that's about it. Gone is Wentz's good buddy Nick Foles, who parlayed filling-in for the oft-injured starter into $50M from Jacksonville, and new faces abound. DeSean Jackson is back for a second stint with the Eagles, out to show the world he is still a burner at age 32 (I wouldn't bet against him), and he toggled in and out with sturdy second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside in drills Tuesday. Jordan Howard, acquired via trade, is firmly in the running back mix along with second-round pick Miles Sanders, and second-year tight end Dallas Goedert is in line for an expanded role as Pederson dabbles with more 12 personnel, involving two tight-end sets.
The defense should have more bite as well, with expectations quite high around here about another postseason surge from the Eagles. The roster is deep and plentiful at most vital positions (I could see a handful of veterans traded late in camp to replenish the draft picks dealt away for Wentz and others). And, as high as the Eagles are on likely No. 2 quarterback Nate Sudfeld, all of it hinges on having Wentz on the field in late December and not sidelined with injury.
Which is why Wentz focused so much time and energy or trying to do whatever he could to prevent it, while knowing that late-season health cannot be guaranteed.
"With whatever limitations I've had, I've been progressing – upper body, lower body," Wentz said. "I'm trying to transform my body this offseason and I think I've seen a lot of development there for me personally, and I think that will help me going forward staying healthy and for longevity and everything."
Surely, it can't hurt. Anything to avoid the agony and isolation of another rehab. Anything to try to ensure that he is able to experience the monotony of these drills in shorts and shells again next spring.
"I'm not going to dive into all the specifics of rehab, I never really do that," Wentz said. "But it's a lot of work. A lot of work to get there and I'm just excited to be back out there and to be with the guys and finally face a defense with all of camaraderie going on. It's fun."
No one was savoring the roughly two hours spent under the sun Tuesday more than Wentz. The joy of not having to jostle with a bulk brace was obvious. "I think he wanted to take that brace off a long time ago, but they wouldn't let him," Goedert said. "So I think he's happy being out there, being himself."
Wentz's zeal can be infectious, and Sudfeld told me he felt like the Eagles got a jolt of energy back by his return. Lest anyone forget, Wentz was in the hunt for the MVP in 2017, just his second season, for good reason, and 2018 was always going to be more of a struggle due to the timing of his ACL tear. The Eagles themselves were in a bit of a collective post-Super Bowl fog early on, and Wentz still managed to throw 21 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in 11 games and had a slightly better quarterback rating than the MVP-esque year before.
The Eagles have long known precisely what they have here – which is why even despite his injuries there is a certain finality within this front office about doing a long-term deal soon enough – and while it was Foles who hoisted that Lombardi Trophy, that Eagles team wouldn't have been in that position without 13 weeks of mastery by Wentz leading up to it. He will create January highlights of his own. It's just a matter of time, and, well, some better luck.
"He does so may impressive things that it's hard to be surprised anymore, because I see it all the time," Sudfeld said. "But he is really smart, he has such a powerful arm and just his understanding of football is incredible. And he's a quick processor. Really, if you are designing a quarterback in a lab, he is way up there with what you'd want.
"Every single high-level quarterback goes through adversity points in their career, whether it's injury or performance or anything like that. And Carson has just had some unfortunate blows with injuries. But I think he's grown a lot from it, and his game is as good as it's ever been, and it's going to continually get better. The sky is the limit for him. It's unbelievable. I'm exited for him."
As far as late-May days go, for Wentz this is about as good as it gets. He has another month of these practices before him, and then a full training camp without having to be held back or skipped for a few days. After what he's been through, this isn't a bad place to be at all.
"I feel really good going forward," he said, fortified by the work he has put in, with a city hopeful that this latest recovery will somehow prevent history from repeating again.
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