No restrictions. That was the official message from head coach Doug Pederson on Tuesday ahead of the first day of the Eagles’ Organized Team Activities at the NovaCare Complex for quarterback Carson Wentz, and there was no better way to begin the spring practices.
And there was Wentz on a sun-splashed day with a sideline full of media members zeroed in on No. 11, studying his every dropback, his movement in and out of the pocket, the way he stepped through as he delivered passes. He played without a knee brace, he flowed with his body language, and he had great zip on his throws.
Carson Wentz is cleared, the injured back that sidelined him for the final month of the regular season and playoffs in 2018, a thing of the past.
“I’m excited. I’m excited to be back out there and I’m excited for the future and what this season is going to hold,” Wentz said. “Be with the guys, finally facing a defense, all the camaraderie going on. It was a fun day.”
It was a glorious day for Wentz and for the Eagles as the team conducted a one hour, 34-minute practice that saw the players being competitive – without contact and no pads – and tremendous energy. He was on the sidelines for much of the OTAs last spring as he recovered from the 2017 knee injury, so being on the field, being with his teammates, well, you could see the joy in Wentz’s game and hear the excitement in his voice after practice.
More than anything, Wentz wants to play football. He took a significant step forward on Tuesday.
“I love any time we can get on the field together and start building that chemistry, talking through things with guys so they see it as I see it and vice versa, so anytime we can be out there I love it,” Wentz said. “Missing some of that time last offseason was a bummer, but at the same time I wouldn’t say it was the end-all, be-all, but it definitely is helpful especially this year with a couple of new faces in there.
“It’s definitely helpful. I think you’ll see dividends come the fall.”
Wentz and the offense have a lot of work to do to create the right chemistry, with newcomers like running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders and receivers DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside joining the high-powered attack. That’s what this time of the year is for, and that’s why it’s such a plus that Wentz, on Day 1 of Organized Team Activities, took reps as the starter with Nate Sudfeld, Cody Kessler, and fifth-round draft pick Clayton Thorson working in as backups.
Since the time of his injury, last December, Wentz has worked hard to reach this point. He’s altered his diet, understanding how a whole-health approach has helped quarterbacks like New England’s Tom Brady, for example, play at such a high level for so long. Wentz has worked diligently in the weight room, improving his total-body strength. He has, he said on Tuesday, learned to take a breath every now and then and take a step back from the go-go-go mentality he has.
In his fourth season, Wentz has big plans for the season ahead. Those plans are contingent upon him staying healthy and in the lineup.
“I feel good. I feel strong. I feel quick,” Wentz said, “and I think some of those things are paying off. At the end of the day my body feels good, feels strong, and I think it will help this season.”
There is a natural tendency to go overboard on days like this, when “real” football starts. As reporters scribbled notes as players lined up all over the formations – “Hey, did you notice that Jordan Mailata lined up as the starting right tackle!!?!?” – the truth is that, as Wentz noted, “It was a productive day and we’ve got to build on it.”
It’s just the start. So much is going to change between now and late August when the regular season comes into focus. The Eagles are just now finding out bits and pieces of what they have and who fits where and how the personnel here can be best employed in 2019.
But there is no denying this: Seeing Carson Wentz on the field, healthy, moving freely, gunning the football gave everyone a jolt. That’s how much he means to this football team.
“It was great, for sure,” tight end Dallas Goedert said. “Carson looked great. He looked like Carson. I guess that’s what we all want to see. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game so him being on the field is a big deal for us.”
And with that, the OTAs move forward with a healthy Carson Wentz leading the way and all of those injury questions he’s answered for so long a thing of the past. The focus is the future, not what is behind him, and Wentz is eager to look ahead.
“For me, it’s physically getting strong, feeling better, and looking forward to staying healthy for my career,” Wentz said.