WHO: Philadelphia Eagles
WHERE: NovaCare Complex, Philadelphia
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 1
HOW: Short drive up I-95 from Baltimore
Stick to The Plan. That’s the talk these days at Eagles headquarters. The default answer, to any question pertaining to Carson Wentz’s return from his left ACL and LCL tears, is that they’re proceeding according to The Plan.
The exact details of The Plan, however, are not yet clear to those outside the walls of the NovaCare Complex. By all accounts, Wentz looked fantastic during the opening days of training camp, acing 11-on-11 drills in the team’s first padded practice on Saturday. But in the next three practices, Wentz sat out all of the full team periods. On Wednesday he threw only in individual drills and 7-on-7 work, and during one of the 11-on-11 team periods, he took off his knee brace, headed over to a side field and did a series of single-leg hopping drills on his own. Is this part of The Plan?
“What I saw last week is enough to ease my mind,” coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday. “I don't need to see him in 11-on-11 drills right now. He's progressing extremely well. I don’t want to subject him to any kind of a setback or anything like that.”
The City of Brotherly Love is still basking in the long-awaited Super Bowl LII title. Fans attending a training camp practice on a weekday morning in August lined up to take a picture with the Lombardi Trophy, while the play-by-play of the game blared from speakers lining the hedges surrounding the practice facility. But out on the practice field, the team’s focus is forward and not backward—at least, that’s certainly what they’re all hoping when it comes to Wentz.
The former No. 2 overall pick, who was having an MVP-caliber second NFL season before injuring his knee at the L.A. Coliseum last December, looks good—he’s dropping, rolling out, torqueing as he throws, all seemingly with ease. But, with five weeks until the season opener, he hasn’t been cleared for contact, and he acknowledged that the team still is at the point where it wants to limit the risk for injury around him. “Coaches and trainers and everybody just want to stay in a more controlled environment right now with where we’re at and everything, so that’s what we’re doing,” Wentz said.
There is still plenty of time until the regular-season opener against the Falcons on Sept. 6, so there’s no need to force team reps if the Eagles feel the risk for incidental contact is too great, even in the mostly controlled environment of a practice setting where the QB is wearing a red non-contact jersey. But, why would The Plan include three days of his full participation, followed by three days without any team drills? A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter asked Pederson about a play that happened during Wentz’s last day of full-team reps on Saturday, when some linemen got pushed back dangerously close to Wentz’s feet. The coach said that had nothing to do with pulling back.
It’s been less than eight months since Wentz’s knee surgery, and Pederson has been adamant that “there is no time frame” for his return, a stance aided by the team’s decision not to trade away Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles this offseason. Yet, Wentz himself has set a time frame, having expressed confidence that he’ll be ready for Week 1. On Wednesday, though, he noted that his return is a “fluid process” and that you can’t say with 100 percent certainty what’s going to happen. When it comes to injuries, there are no guarantees.
But for now, the message being sent by the team can be boiled down to the lone sentence scribbled across one beat reporter’s notebook as Pederson stood at the press conference podium: “That’s the plan.”
OH, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT: File this as something Zach Ertz didn’t know about his new teammate, fellow tight end Dallas Goedert. “He is a lot further along at the point of attack,” Ertz said, “than I thought he would be, coming from what school he came from.” Goedert, drafted in the second round out of South Dakota State in April, looks ready to make an impact as a rookie as a complement to Ertz. The Eagles’ tight end room is different this year—Brent Celek was released this spring, and Trey Burton signed with the Bears in free agency—but Goedert’s flexibility has Ertz seeing a lot of possibilities for the tandem. “In years past, when it was me and Brent on the field, it was more run-dominant. When it was me and Trey, it was more pass-dominant,” Ertz said. “So teams are really going to have to choose whether they want to go base or go nickel to the two of us. ... Put one of us down, one of us in the slot, and vary it up.”
STORYLINE TO WATCH: The curious case of defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who has missed all of camp on the non-football injury list, after offseason surgery for a herniated disc. When will he play this season? Will he play this season? Plenty of questions linger.
TOP POSITION BATTLE: Patrick Robinson’s play as the Eagles’ slot corner last season earned him a payday in New Orleans, leaving a vacancy at that position in Philadelphia. De’Vante Bausby took first-team reps the day we visited, but it’s anyone’s job right now. With Sidney Jones, last year’s second-round pick, returning from his pre-2017 draft Achilles injury, he could join starting corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby on the field in nickel packages, with Mills possibly moving inside.
OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: Several elected officials from the area were invited to practice on Wednesday. One member of the PA House of Representatives, who was standing on the sideline, described the annual invitation from the team as “a gesture of goodwill to the people who provide stadium funding.” Cutting straight to the chase.
PARTING THOUGHTS: Malcolm Jenkins, along with several other players around the NFL, wore a “Schools Not Prisons” T-shirt under his uniform during practice Wednesday. It was a coordinated effort among members of the Players Coalition, the non-profit group co-founded by the Eagles safety, to address racial and social inequalities in the U.S. “Finding ways to continue to push our message across and fight back against this somehow being about patriotism and the anthem,” Jenkins says. “It’s really about the facts and things that are plaguing the country, our communities.”
Their message was well-timed, with LeBron James this week opening his I Promise School, a public school serving at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. “We are trying to push our country to have that same mentality,” Jenkins says, “to take the same resources we put into incarcerating our children and investing in providing resources, education, opportunities.” Furthermore, Jenkins points out that black kids are more than five times as likely to be detained or committed as white kids. “Already at its core, it’s not making us better or stronger or safer as a country to deal in mass incarceration,” Jenkins adds, “but when you really look at it from a racial standpoint, it’s having a catastrophic effect on the trajectory of our youth and our future.”
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