Carson Wentz practiced in full-team periods on Sunday for the first time in three weeks, and Nick Foles returned to practice just three days after exiting a preseason game with a strained shoulder. Wentz's progress and Foles' improved health were both positive signs for the Eagles quarterbacks just 18 days before the Sept. 6 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
"The sheriff will be back in town," tackle Lane Johnson said of Wentz before practice.
Coach Doug Pederson said Wentz and Foles would split first-team snaps in practice, which took place on the slick turf during a rainy afternoon. As has been the case throughout the summer, Wentz showed no effects of his torn left ACL during the portion of practice open to reporters on Sunday.
"It's big to begin to evaluate him and see where he is at and get him back in there with the guys," Pederson said. "Again, it's still a slow process, but at the same time, it's exciting for him and for us to get him back out there."
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Wentz participated in 11-on-11 periods at the beginning of training camp before the team scaled his activity back after three days. The plan was to keep him in a controlled environment, away from the possibility of accidental contact. That continued through the next three weeks. But progress appeared to be coming last week when Wentz said that the plan was to return to 11-on-11 when the Eagles resumed practice on Sunday. Wentz met with the training staff after the Eagles returned from New England to clear his increased activity. This does not mean he has been cleared for full contact, which is the final hurdle before playing in Week 1. But it's certainly a good sign.
The medical staff reevaluated Wentz's "health, the strength of his knee, where he is at physically," Pederson said. "He hasn't had all the reps … so his arm is live and he's fresh. That's all the things that we wanted and where we kind of wanted him to be at this stage."
Wentz is not expected to play in the preseason, so all of his work with the starters must come in practice. The Eagles are still far enough away from the season opener that Pederson doesn't object to splitting snaps between Wentz and Foles, but the Eagles starters will likely begin preparing for the Falcons next week. That's why it's so important that Wentz returned to full-team drills.
"I want to make sure he's with the starters and with the guys that when he is finally OK to play, that he's still got the timing with the starters," Pederson said.
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Tight end Zach Ertz, perhaps Wentz's closest friend on the team, called Sunday's return to full-team drills "one step closer to him being out there on Sundays with us." Ertz said the way Wentz looks is "pretty remarkable" for a player who had surgery eight months ago.
Ertz also knows Wentz's personality; Wentz likes to be in control. That's why the past few months have been a challenge. Wentz looks like he's ready to play and he wants to play, but he has needed to rely on the training and medical staffs. Pederson said communication with Wentz has been critical, knowing that Wentz wants to be on the field. The focus is on the "longevity of his career," Pederson said.
"He doesn't like it," Ertz said of the team holding the reins on Wentz, echoing a sentiment Wentz has stated publicly. "He wants to have final say, he wants to have control, that's how he's wired. That's what makes him such a good player, because he wants to have everything done in a specific manner. But this is probably going to be a learning experience for him, no matter what they decide. But him not having control is not easy for a guy who's such a type A personality."
Although Wentz will be the Eagles' starting quarterback when he's healthy, the team has felt secure knowing the Super Bowl MVP is ready in case Wentz is not cleared by Week 1. But Foles' availability appeared in question when he departed last Thursday's game with a strained shoulder. Foles expressed optimism after the game that the injury was not serious and hoped he would be ready to practice this week. Further evaluation validated his optimism, and there does not appear to be concern with Foles.
With Wentz and Foles both practicing, the Eagles can prepare both quarterbacks for opening night. The play-calling might adjust from one quarterback to the other, but the scheme is the same. At some point in the next two weeks, the Eagles will know for sure who's going to start. Still, there could be some benefit in keeping the suspense as Week 1 approaches.
"I think it doesn't hurt to not put it out there who is going to start right away," Pederson said.
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Cornerback Jalen Mills returned to practice for individual periods after missing Thursday's game with a lower-body injury. … Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Corey Clement are "day to day" with lower-body injuries. Pederson said last week that the Eagles are getting both players prepared for Week 1, so they might not play again in the preseason. … Running back Donnel Pumphrey, who is on the roster bubble and has missed the preseason with a hamstring injury, is not expected to return this week. … The Eagles were down to three running backs at practice because Jay Ajayi was not on the field at the start of the session. It's unclear what held Ajayi back. Josh Adams remained absent after exiting practice early last Monday. … Wide receiver Mack Hollins returned to practice after being sidelined the last week.