The Eagles returned to practice Sunday, and the starters talked about preparing for the season opener against Atlanta, less than two weeks away.
"We don't have a game this week; it's about us focusing in and getting good reps so next week we can go into it smoother," right tackle Lane Johnson said, mindful that starters don't play the final preseason game, in which the Eagles will host the Jets on Thursday. "We're already starting to get game tape on the Falcons. We're starting today, rather than waiting a week."
But one person wasn't talking about preparing for the Falcons – Doug Pederson. The Eagles head coach sounded testy when he was asked about the season opener and especially about the process for determining whether quarterback Carson Wentz will start against Atlanta.
"Well, we're not into next week, we're into the Jets, so I'm not worried about that … right now," Pederson said when asked how he planned to divide practice reps between Wentz and Nick Foles, while the identity of the season-opening starter remains up in the air.
Pederson said Wentz has not been cleared medically for contact. The coach wasn't eager to give details about how that evaluation will be made, or much of anything else, on a day when players said practice was supposed to be in lightweight "shells." When they arrived, however, they found their jerseys stretched over shoulder pads.
True, these Wentz questions have been asked over and over since the Eagles reconvened for spring OTAs, fresh off Foles' dramatic Super Bowl MVP performance after Wentz went down with torn knee ligaments in December. But, this isn't spring OTAs. With the season starting three days earlier for the Eagles and Falcons than for the rest of the NFL, the Eagles need to gameplan around their quarterback, soon.
They took dramatically different approaches to game planning with Foles than with Wentz last season. They aren't going to wake up the day before the game, get word from the medical staff that Wentz is cleared, and say, "OK, here we go."
When would Pederson like to know if Wentz is playing?
"When he's cleared, and if he gets cleared," the coach said.
Could that be the day before the game?
Is there is a schedule for evaluations?
"I don't know how many times I can answer this question," Pederson said. "When they clear him, he'll be cleared. … I'm not going to put myself in a box, I'm not going to put my quarterback in a box. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to go out on a limb, and I'm not going to say that. Either ask it a different way or otherwise, I'm — you're going to get the same answer."
In response to further questions, Pederson said: "He's getting evaluated every day, if that's what you want. … He's part of the rehab process. He's getting evaluated at practice. He's getting evaluated by the medical treatment [staff]. He's getting treatment just like Jason Peters is, just like Darren Sproles is. You guys don't ask me about those guys, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos. Those guys are in the same boat, and they're getting evaluated every day."
Do the players wonder who will lead them out of the tunnel for the opener, and when they will know?
"I think about it, but at the end of the day, it's really not going to help me either way," Johnson said. "I'd like Carson to be in there if he's healthy, but, if not, we can hold off. We're really probably not going to get the green light 'til next week."
Right guard Brandon Brooks noted that Wentz – who was not available to reporters Sunday – has said the decision on whether his knee is ready for the opener "will be close." So, Brooks said he did not expect to know Wentz's status very far in advance.
"We'll see, just like you guys will see," Brooks said. "I think we've got two very capable quarterbacks, no matter who's in there. … I'm going to go out there and perform my job, no matter who's back there."
Tight end Zach Ertz said the Eagles have faced this situation before – when Sam Bradford was traded a week before the 2016 opener, and when Chip Kelly was deciding between Foles and Michael Vick in 2013. Foles replaced Vick during that season, and Foles got hurt midway through the 2014 season, giving way to Mark Sanchez.
"I just focus on getting open," Ertz said. "My first couple of years here, oftentimes I didn't know who was going to play quarterback, so I just concentrated on getting open, and when the ball's in the air, just making plays. Whether it's Nick or Carson or Nate Sudfeld, we've got all the confidence in the world in all three of those guys. … I'm sure, as a team, we'll know" at least several days beforehand, "and when that announcement takes place, everyone will support that decision 100 percent.