Quarterback Carson Wentz will make his much-anticipated return from ACL and LCL surgery Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET). What you need to know:
What are his teammates saying about how he looks?
Cornerback Sidney Jones was asked what he's seen out of Wentz recently.
“I've seen greatness, man,” he replied.
Wentz ran the scout team in practice during the first two weeks of the regular season while awaiting medical clearance. It was a way to get work against the first-team defense while providing Jim Schwartz’s unit with optimal looks.
Jones pointed to one play in particular that stuck out. It was in the red zone. Wentz ran a bootleg to the backside of the defense, evaded the rush and looked downfield, only to find that his receiver was double-covered. But he noticed one of the defensive backs had slipped off the receiver a hair, and he delivered a perfect back-shoulder throw for the touchdown.
“You saw what he did last year, and when he came on scout team, he was doing it [again] and I was like, ‘Man, this guys is special.’ He was making some crazy throws,” Jones said. "I was like, 'S---, we’re going against the best right now, so this is the best look we’re ever going to get.'”
Tackle Lane Johnson has held the belief that Wentz’s arm is even stronger than last year. He said his theory was “validated” during Wednesday’s practice -- Wentz’s first as the starting quarterback this season.
“He’s humming the football out there,” he said.
Johnson is right: Wentz’s arm is the strongest it has ever been. The Eagles use player-tracking technology on their players in practice. Coach Doug Pederson said that his throwing velocity is up over previous years.
“It’s been a long process for him, but I think he did what he could to build up his body,” said Johnson. “He looks stronger physically than what he did last year. He’s looking good.”
It’s his first game in nine months. Is the coaching staff going to ease him in?
It doesn’t sound like it. Pederson said he might offer max protection when the opportunity presents itself, but he isn’t going to hide the franchise quarterback.
“The thing is, I'm not going to coach scared. I'm not going to coach paranoid,” Pederson said. “I'm not going to go in thinking, ‘Oh, no, we can't do this, we can't do that.' We just have to continue to go play and I [have] to coach that way. That's where the confidence with the team comes, by doing that.”
Wentz is adopting a similar mindset. He feels “extremely confident moving around, on the run” and plans on using his legs to extend plays right out of the chute.
Doesn’t that seem a little dangerous?
Sure, but there is a reason they waited to give him the green light: They didn’t want to put him out there until they felt reasonably confident that the knee could handle the rigors of a game. Wentz will be wearing a protective brace on his left leg to offer additional support.
That’s not to say there won’t be anxiety.
“His numbers could be perfectly symmetric, everything could look perfect, but their people will still be nervous about his return until that first tackle, that first sack, that first awkward landing running out of bounds,” said Dr. Brian Sennett, chief of sports medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Only then will people start to feel that he has really made it all the way back.”
To last in the NFL, mobile quarterbacks have to figure out how to avoid unnecessary punishment. Wentz is cognizant of that, and the coaches continue to drill the importance of Wentz protecting himself.
Can his playmakers make it easy on him at least?
Tight end Zach Ertz said it best when he noted that Wentz is not “Superman” and can’t be asked to come in and do all the heavy lifting after not playing in nine months. But injuries have left the Eagles light at the skill positions.
Running backs Jay Ajayi (back) and Darren Sproles (hamstring) are banged up, receiver Mike Wallace was just put on injured reserve after fracturing his fibula against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Alshon Jeffery still hasn’t been cleared for takeoff following offseason rotator cuff surgery.
Badly in need of receiver help, on Wednesday the Eagles brought back Jordan Matthews, who could jump right into the fray.
Simply put, the offense is not even close to full force right now, meaning Wentz might have to carry more of the load than anyone would like.
The ideal scenario for the Eagles is to jump out to an early lead and have their defense play light’s out so they can lean on the ground game a bit, even if they’re missing a key back or two.
The Eagles' offensive line is one of the better units in the league when healthy (left tackle Jason Peters is dealing with a quad injury but expects to start) and knows the importance of its job beginning Sunday.
“The energy has been pretty high, but just knowing that we have our guy back, knowing that he’s put in a lot of work to get back where he is, just motivates us to do our jobs a little bit better and keep these guys off of him," Johnson said. "Keep him clean, and he’s going to win a lot of ballgames for us.”