Eagles coach acts peeved as time frame for Carson Wentz tightens
PHILADELPHIA—The Philadelphia Eagles returned to practice Sunday, Aug. 26, and the starters were talking about preparing for the Sept. 6 season opener against Atlanta. It's now less than two weeks away, in case you haven't looked at a calendar lately.
"We don't have a game this week; it's about us focusing in and getting good reps so next week we can go into it smoother," said right tackle Lane Johnson, mindful that starters don't play the final preseason game, in which the Eagles will host the Jets, on Thursday. "We're already starting to get game tape on the Falcons. We're starting today, rather than waiting a week."
One person wasn't talking about preparing for the Falcons—Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Pederson took a testy approach to being asked about the season opener and especially to being asked about the process for determining whether quarterback Carson Wentz will start against Atlanta.
"Well, we're not into next week, we're into the Jets, so I'm not worried about that yet, right now," Pederson said when asked how he planned to divide practice reps between Nick Foles and Wentz, while the identity of the season-opening starter remains up in the air.
Pederson said Wentz has not been cleared for contact. Wentz, the third-year quarterback from North Dakota State, is still recovering from last season's knee injury. Pederson wasn't eager to give details about how that evaluation will be made, or much of anything else, on a day when players said practice was supposed to be in lightweight "shells," yet when they arrived, they found their jerseys stretched over full shoulder pads.
Maybe you are rolling your eyes and thinking these Wentz questions have been asked over and over, ever since the Eagles reconvened for spring OTAs, fresh off Foles' dramatic Super Bowl MVP performance after Wentz went down with two torn knee ligaments last Dec. 10. Here's the thing: This isn't spring OTAs. With the season starting three days earlier for the Eagles and Falcons than for the rest of the NFL, the Eagles need to gameplan around their quarterback, soon.
They took dramatically different approaches to game planning with Foles than with Wentz last season. They aren't going to wake up the day before the game, get word from the medical staff that Wentz is cleared, and say, "OK, here we go!"
"When he's cleared and if he gets cleared," Pederson said, after being asked at what point he would like to know if Wentz is playing. Asked if that could be the day before the game, Pederson said: "We'll see."
Asked if there is a regular schedule for evaluations, Pederson said: "I don't know how many times I can answer this question. When they clear him, he'll be cleared ... I'm not going to put myself in a box, I'm not going to put my quarterback in a box. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to go out on a limb and I'm not going to say that. Either ask it a different way or otherwise, I'm — you're going to get the same answer."
In response to further questions, Pederson said: "He's getting evaluated every day if that's what you want ... He's part of the rehab process. He's getting evaluated at practice. He's getting evaluated by the medical treatment [staff]. He's getting treatment just like Jason Peters is, just like Darren Sproles is. You guys don't ask me about those guys, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos. Those guys are in the same boat, and they're getting evaluated every day."
Do the players wonder who will lead them out for the opener, and when they will know?
"I think about it, but at the end of the day, it's really not going to help me either way," Johnson said. "I'd like Carson to be in there if he's healthy, but if not, we can hold off. We're really probably not going to get the green light 'til next week."
Right guard Brandon Brooks noted that Wentz — who was not available to reporters Sunday — has said the decision on whether his knee is ready for the opener "will be close."
Brooks said because of that statement, he doesn't expect to know Wentz's status very far in advance.
"[Bleep], we'll see, just like you guys will see," Brooks said. "I think we've got two very capable quarterbacks, no matter who's in there ... I'm going to go out there and perform my job, no matter who's back there."
Tight end Zach Ertz noted that this question is one the Eagles have faced before — when Sam Bradford was traded a week before the 2016 opener, or when Chip Kelly was deciding between Foles and Michael Vick in 2013. Then, of course, Foles replaced Vick during the 2013 season, and Foles got hurt midway through the 2014 season, giving way to Mark Sanchez.
"I just focus on getting open," Ertz said. "My first couple of years here, oftentimes I didn't know who was going to play quarterback, so I just concentrated on getting open, and when the ball's in the air, just making plays. Whether it's Nick or Carson or Nate Sudfeld, we've got all the confidence in the world in all three of those guys ... I'm sure as a team we'll know [at least several days beforehand], and when that announcement takes place, everyone will support that decision 100 percent.
"There's no need to rush Carson, but if he's able to play, he's able to play."