If you happened to be at the NovaCare Complex in the early-morning hours during those five weeks of downtime for the players and coaches between late June and the start of Training Camp, there was a good chance you would run into Carson Wentz at some point. Wentz didn't take five weeks off – just a few days, so he could get married – and he didn't have any offseason "down" time and he didn't have a vacation to go hunting, his favorite pastime away from the game.
Wentz was working. Wentz was rehabbing his left knee, injured on December 10 in a game at the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz was watching film. Wentz was in the weight room building his upper-body strength.
All of that effort paid off.
The team's Franchise Quarterback made September 6, the date of the opening-night game against Atlanta, his return-to-the-lineup goal. While Wentz didn't play in that win over Atlanta, or in the loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, he is slated to start on Sunday in Week 3 when the Indianapolis Colts come to town. His recovery has been impressive, marked by hard work and dedication not only from Wentz but from the team's athletic training department, the strength and conditioning staff, the coaches, the players who have worked for so many cumulative hours on the side, and everyone who has supported Wentz in his personal life.
"We're really excited that Carson is back, and I know that he's worked extremely hard with his medical team and on his own in a lot of solitary hours trying to get himself ready and prepared to play, so it's exciting to have him back. I know he's anxious to get out there, and we just want to get him back in the game first," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Wouldn't want to talk about any kind of expectation level for the way we expect he's going to play right now.
"He's done a tremendous job – the No. 1 job of a quarterback is to lead his team to victory. That's where it all starts and ends, and I think that if you were to ask him what he wants to improve on, I mean, there's probably little nuanced things that he feels like he could get better at. He has tremendous command of the system right now, and the way he sees us operating offensively and the way we'll do it when he's in there. He's got a real vision for how he wants to play the game and is communicating that and articulating that, both with us and the guys around him. So, it's good to have him back."
It sure is. Now the question is how quickly Carson can be Carson, and to add to that is the question of how the Eagles will coach him and call plays. Head coach Doug Pederson vows to remain aggressive and "not coach scared" with Wentz. There are no limitations with Wentz, who, among his many great traits, has kept plays alive in and out of the pocket with his legs and awareness of who and what are around him and the game situation.
Can the Eagles expect Wentz to pick up where he left off last season – remember, his last play was a touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, Wentz's franchise-record 33rd touchdown pass of the season?
"I think there's going to be maybe an issue or two. It's going to take some time to get back into the rhythm and the flow of the game," Pederson said. "The speed of the game is different than the speed of practice. We do everything we can to try to simulate that during the week and try to prepare him that way. And listen, he's a guy that will be totally prepared. He comes in early, studies the tape as do all the quarterbacks, stays obviously late in the day, asks a lot of questions, and has a lot of ideas. He's going to be prepared mentally. Now it's just a matter of the physical part taking over."
Said Groh: "He didn't have any preseason, really very little offseason, so I think that Carson Wentz will show up, but how much rust is there, I don't know. I think Coach (Pederson) said to you guys yesterday, there's no real way to simulate game speed in practice, so he does that, he plays the game very fast mentally out there in practice. He's seeing it and envisioning himself in the game. I think that helps from a mental standpoint. The body doesn't know the difference between a mental or physical rep, so I think he's trying to simulate that process in his mind. But there's still nothing like playing in a game and feeling that speed. I'm sure it'll take a few plays."
What are we going to see early from Wentz playing with a receiving corps thinned out by injury? A lot of quick, high-percentage throws to get him in the flow right away? An emphasis on the running game? A moving pocket to keep Wentz away from a Colts pressure package that you would expect to go after him early?
Or will Pederson be aggressive and trusting and play his brand of offense from the get-go?
We're going to find out. Wentz worked his tail off to get back on the field just a shade over nine months after surgery. That's remarkable. He has looked great to observers watching him throw since Training Camp. His pregame workout prior to Sunday's contest in Tampa was impressive and invigorating.
He'll play on Sunday and his instincts will take over. Carson Wentz will be smart about it, but he's not going to go out there and hold back. Way back when, Randall Cunningham returned from two torn ligaments (his medial collateral and posterior cruciate) suffered in the 1991 opener at Green Bay. He wore a hat that read "He's Back Scrambling" as he prepared for the 1992 season. He ran for 549 yards and threw 19 touchdown passes and won the first playoff game of his career that season. Nagging injuries in 1993 and 1994 marred the remainder of Cunningham's time as an Eagle.
You never know, do you? We all have to see how it plays out. Wentz deserves this start, given the extraordinary work he's put in. He looks great. He feels great. And if Wentz can get back quickly near where he was when he left off, the Eagles are going to be in great shape moving forward.