When the Philadelphia Eagles got down to the serious business of Tuesday's sweltering practice, the reigning (almost) league MVP, Carson Wentz, took a spot on the sideline alongside the reigning (actual) Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles. The quarterback charged with bringing coach Doug Pederson's offense to life during full team drills was former Washington Redskins castoff Nate Sudfeld.
It's very, very good to be the Eagles these days, as their fans continue to bask in the afterglow of their Super Bowl triumph over the New England Patriots in February. But it's on to new things now and the steamy early days of August are presenting some challenges for Pederson.
Wentz, the franchise quarterback, has been withheld from 11-on-11 practice-field drills recently in his return from surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that cut short his brilliant second NFL season. Foles, the ultimate insurance policy who delivered the memorable victory over the Patriots, has been shelved in recent days by what he calls muscle spasms on the right side of his neck.
But if the Eagles are fretting, they aren't showing it. Foles says his injury is no big deal. Wentz says his goal remains to be in the lineup for the NFL's season-opening game Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field. And if anyone in the organization is feeling any angst, a glimpse at that still-shiny Lombardi Trophy might serve to lift spirits.
"We'll see," Wentz said after Tuesday's practice. "You know the goal. Same thing. Probably just put what I said the last couple times on repeat right now."
Wentz participated in individual drills Tuesday. He threw the ball crisply in seven-on-seven passing drills. But he sat out full team drills. That has been the case for more than a week since Wentz progressed to participating in 11-on-11 drills, albeit briefly, early in training camp.
"It's frustrating," Wentz said. "Obviously getting the chance to get out there and everything, it felt great. It was fun to be out there. But, again, just trusting what the doctors are saying. Without a doubt, it's tough to just sit there and watch. I mean, I did it all last offseason. Now, kind of getting your feet wet but kind of going in and out, it's not what I'd like. But I'm making the most of it as we go here."
Wentz said he feels good and his arm feels strong. He said he believes he has shown the team what it needs to see and now his return is "just kind of a timetable, the docs feeling comfortable with things."
It's clear that Wentz won't play in Thursday's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he doesn't play at all during the preseason, Wentz said that wouldn't be a major issue for him.
"I don't think it's a big hurdle for me," he said. "Again, would I love to be out there on Thursday? Absolutely. I'd love to play every day. But for me personally, I think I'll be fine if I don't get out there for preseason."
Pederson said Tuesday that Wentz "is progressing extremely well" despite the recent limitations placed on his practice-field workload. Pederson acknowledged the challenge of keeping Wentz fully engaged and sharp while participating in only some drills, but said that Wentz has demonstrated no signs of sloppiness with his passing accuracy and decision-making.
"He has to approach it like it's game week," Pederson said. "And I just keep talking to him that way. . . . We're not going to let anything slide from his decision-making to accuracy of throws, feeling the pocket even though it's seven-on-seven, timing, rhythm, all of that part of the game. So we just keep talking to him and putting him in those situations."
The Eagles' offseason decision not to trade Foles after his postseason exploits ensured that they could feel comfortable beginning the season without Wentz on the field, if necessary. But now Foles is not practicing because of what he called spasms in the area of his right trapezius muscle.
"I want to be out there every single day," Foles said Tuesday. "But right now we're just focusing on getting this thing healthy. I'll be back out there as soon as I can and look forward to when I can be back out there. So hopefully it will be really soon."
Foles said he and the team are being cautious and taking a "really smart" approach. He missed all of the preseason last summer because of an ailing elbow, yet was more than ready when needed in December after Wentz got hurt. Still, he conceded that any missed time is meaningful.
"Last preseason I didn't get a chance to play," Foles said. "But fortunately I'd played a lot of football. So you just sort of lean on that. Football is such a rhythm game. It takes a little bit of time. It took me a little bit of time when I started playing at the end of the year to get that rhythm back. That's why the preseason is great. That's why training camp is great. That's why every single rep is so valuable. But I don't have like a target amount of playing. I just really want to be back on the practice field healthy, ready to roll."
If any of this is ominous for the Eagles, they nevertheless can rely on the resourcefulness of Pederson. He held things together last season when Wentz's injury could have extinguished the Eagles' championship hopes. He outmaneuvered the Patriots and their coaching legend, Bill Belichick, in the Super Bowl. He and Howie Roseman, the team's chief front office architect, were rewarded this week by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie with dual contract extensions through the 2022 season.
"Well, I went up to him right away when I heard the news," Wentz said. "I said, 'I can't wait to be a free agent.' And I was kidding, obviously. But no, I'm stoked. I'm stoked for Doug. He deserves it. He deserves it, him and Howie both. Coming in with Doug at the same time and just seeing him as a leader, obviously winning the Super Bowl and seeing him now, he hasn't changed. That's what I love about him. He's still the same guy. I'm excited for, God willing, a long future with him."
Pederson spoke Tuesday of the friendship he has forged with Roseman, and said: "I'm excited to work with him now the next few years. I know he's excited as well. Listen, as long as we can continue to collaborate, stay in our lanes and keep doing our jobs, I think good things are gonna happen."
Now Pederson must make things work without departed offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who landed the head coaching job in Indianapolis, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who became the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Further coaching magic is required.
"What I love about this team," Pederson said, "is we can have a scuffle. We can have some words back and forth. But they come together at the end and they embrace it and move on. And that's what I like to see from this team. Two weeks in, it's been hot these late couple days, and they've really embraced it. [But] until we start playing games, it's hard to say."