In just more than two weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles will begin defending their Super Bowl title at the Linc against the Atlanta Falcons.
Carson Wentz continues to be optimistic that he’ll be the team’s starting quarterback that night.
Wentz, who is just eight-plus months removed from surgery to repair shredded ligaments in his left knee, was a full participant in practice Monday for the second straight day, including 11-on-11 team work.
Wentz participated in 11-on-11 work the first three days of training camp, then was dialed back by the training and coaching staffs to individual and 7-on-7 work for the next three weeks.
Now, the only thing standing in the way of him starting against the Falcons is getting cleared for contact by the Eagles’ medical staff and the doctor who performed his surgery, Pittsburgh-based James Bradley.
“Like I said last week, it’s going to be close,” he said before practice Monday. “Nothing’s really changed since last week other than (resuming) 11-on-11 practice.”
Wentz suffered his knee injury against the Rams on Dec. 10. Bradley operated three days later.
Some historical precedents: It’s believed that just three other NFL quarterbacks — Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, and Robert Griffin III — have torn their ACLs later than Wentz and returned for the start of the following season.
Palmer tore the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee in a playoff game with the Bengals in January 2006. Rivers tore his right ACL with the Chargers in the 2008 playoffs and somehow played in the AFC Championship game a week later before having surgery. Griffin sprained the LCL in his right knee late in his rookie season (2012) but only missed one game. In the Redskins’ playoff loss to Seattle, he suffered a partial tear of his LCL, a complete tear of his ACL, and a torn meniscus.
Griffin never was the same player. But Rivers led the NFL in touchdown passes (34) and yards per attempt (8.4), and Palmer threw for 4,000-plus yards and 28 touchdowns the season after their knee injuries.
“The doctors will make the decision,” Wentz said. “I’m going to trust what they say. There’s more than one doc in there. There’s a lot of medical brains in there, trying to make the decision.
“I know how I feel and where I’m at. But it will ultimately be their decision and the coach’s decision.”
Wentz was on roll when he got hurt: Wentz’s desire to be back for the opener is understandable. He was the hottest quarterback in the league when he got hurt.
He had thrown an NFL-high 33 touchdowns. He was leading the league in third-down and red-zone passing. If his knee ligaments had remained intact, Tom Brady would have one less MVP award.
Wentz cheered and smiled as he watched his team win the Lombardi Trophy. He hugged the man who replaced him and was the Super Bowl MVP. But, it absolutely killed him not being out there.
Impressive recovery: His rehab and recovery have been impressive. Moving around the NovaCare practice fields this summer, he showed absolutely no evidence of his Week 14 injury, aside from the brace protecting his surgically repaired knee. There’s no signs of pain or swelling.
Still, it’s understandable to wonder whether he’s pushing the envelope trying to come back so quickly. Studies show that ligaments re-tear at a higher rate when an athlete returns less than nine months after ACL surgery. Wentz will be right on the nine-month border. And he also had the LCL tear.
“I think nine months for a professional athlete is totally reasonable,” said Dr. Moira McCarthy, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who has worked with the New York Giants.
“Much earlier than nine months, and you might get into a bit of trouble,” she said. “Adrian Peterson came back after something like six months. He ended up doing OK for a while, but then he had another massive lateral-sided injury. So, I think your injury-risk increases if you come back much earlier than nine months.”
McCarthy said the fact that Wentz had his surgery so quickly after the injury (three days) and was able to begin his rehab sooner probably helped speed up his recovery.
“I feel really good where I’m at,” Wentz said. “It was obviously frustrating” not being allowed to participate in 11-on-11 team work the last three weeks. That wasn’t totally my call. But getting out there yesterday in the full-team drills, I definitely enjoyed it. The knee was feeling good, so it was a good day.”
Feeling good: Being held out of 11-on-11 work for three weeks “was up to the doctors,” Wentz said. “I would’ve loved to have played in the Super Bowl, too, but I wasn’t physically capable of doing that.
“But (the last three weeks), I felt good. You guys saw me moving around in camp and everything. It just boiled down to a controlled environment. That’s what we wanted to maintain for a while.”
For many quarterbacks coming off knee injuries, there also is a psychological hurdle to clear. Sam Bradford had it in his first games with the Eagles in 2015, after his second ACL injury.
But Wentz said that isn’t a problem for him.
“I really have no hesitation in the pocket when guys are around me,” he said. “Obviously, I haven’t been hit yet. But in team drills, you got guys flying all around. I don’t feel I have any mental hesitation. I’m personally not worried about that.”
No reason to rush him back: The Eagles have zero reason to rush Wentz back. They are coming off their first NFL title in 57 years and are playing with house money. They have the Super Bowl MVP ready in the bullpen.
Why not wait a couple of weeks, a month, or a little longer before sending out Wentz?
“You make a good point,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Monday. “But I don’t think we’re going to push it. We’re going to listen to the doctors and the medical team. They’ll make that determination.
“If he’s cleared, he’s cleared. Once you’re cleared, you’re ready to go. It’s not like, ‘Well, you’re cleared, but …’ “