WESTFIELD – A good indicator of a player’s readiness in his return from injury is how he looks to the naked eye.
If you didn’t know he had surgery three weeks ago, was it apparent? Was there hesitancy? Maybe a hitch in his gait when he jogged from one area of the practice field to another?
Carson Wentz was back on the Grand Park Sports Campus practice fields Monday morning, and it was as if he hadn’t been away three weeks after having surgery Aug. 2 – three weeks ago to the day – to remove a pesky bone fragment in his left foot.
“Long time, no see,’’ he said. “It was good to get back out there with the guys.’’
The plan was for Wentz to be limited in his return, but that was a relative term. He participated in every first-team rep over the first 50 minutes of practice – individual, 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s – and only took a step back in team drills.
He threw 44 passes, and at the risk of being too harsh on Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger, Monday was the best day of quarterbacking at Grand Park since day 2 when Wentz felt that “twinge’’ in his left foot that put everything in motion.
“I thought Carson looked good,’’ Frank Reich said. “When I first saw him hopping around out there, I thought, ‘Woo, looks pretty good.’ I had seen a little of it indoors (last week), but just to see it out here on the grass and the speed he was moving, I thought he looked good.
“The big question now is how does it respond?’’
Barring a setback, there seems every likelihood Wentz will be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m optimistic, but we’ll see,’’ Wentz said. “Honestly, it’s not fully my call. It’s going to come down to the doctors and surgeons and trainers and see how it feels. And a lot will depend on how I respond and how the foot feels day after day being out here.’’
Wentz’s rehab ramped up last week when he went through walkthroughs, began throwing and watched practices without a protective boot on his left foot. The next phase would be rejoining practice and, as Reich said Sunday, “doing stuff.’’
Reich admitted after Monday’s practice Wentz might be a week ahead in his rehab, and last week said “in a perfect world” he would need two weeks of solid practice time to be adequately prepared for the Seahawks.
Now, he’ll have three weeks, even though this week Wentz won’t be handling a full load.
Is three weeks enough?
“It’s going to have to be,’’ Wentz said. “I’d love to get as many reps as I could out here.’’
The main issue over the next several days is how the foot responds and the level of pain Wentz experiences. Owner Jim Irsay recently said he wanted his quarterback to be 100% before returning. While the short term is clearly important, the team considers Wentz its long-term answer at the most influential position.
Wentz, though, indicated being 100% isn’t necessarily a requirement for him.
“It’s up the doctors, for sure,’’ he said. “As long as there’s nothing I can do to injure myself or make it worse, I know I’ve played through a lot worse.’’
From the outset Monday, it appeared normalcy had returned to the position.
Wentz was out with Eason, Ehlinger and Brett Hundley attacking the normal pre-practice positional routine. He was jogging – occasionally more than jogging – and cutting sharply to avoid an imaginary pass rusher.
When the quarterbacks were going through throwing drills, Wentz looked like pre-injury Wentz. On one play, he took the snap, rolled effortlessly to his right, planted and threw 30-plus yards back to the left corner of the end zone.
There appeared to be no limitations when Wentz stepped in for 7-on-7 work. He took his drop, avoided the simulated rush – coaches Parks Frazier and Scott Milanovich tapped him lightly with padded sticks – stepped up and delivered crisp passes to T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Jack Doyle, Kylen Granson, Mike Strachan or another target.
“He looked good today,’’ Pascal said. “Did you see him? He was connecting on all cylinders today.’’
Unofficially, Wentz was 27-for-44 with three touchdowns and one interception. He looked sharp, decisive. There was no apparent rust from the three-week absence.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,’’ Doyle said with a laugh. “I don’t think he was surprised. He was excited, I know that. He talked about it a lot and you could see he had that little bit of the look in his eye and the adrenalin rush was going, so that was fun.
“I’m sure that was a lot of fun for him; that’s what we’re all out here for. It was great to see him look so good.’’
Wentz has dealt with a lot over the past three weeks.
It all began when he felt a pain in his left foot while just casually playing the position July 29. David Porter, the team’s orthopedic surgeon, determined Wentz was dealing with a piece of bone from an injury that might have occurred during high school and had finally worked its way loose. Consultation with Dr. Robert Anderson, a noted foot and ankle specialist, confirmed the nature of the injury.
Surgery was performed by Dr. Porter Aug. 2.
“It was quick,’’ Wentz said. “We had to make some decisions in a hurry. It was an old injury that kind of flared up. Had to decide, ‘Are we going to do the surgery or are we just going to rehab it and see how it goes?’
“Decided to do the surgery, take it out and hit it hard. It’s responded well. The foot’s in a good place.’’
The day Wentz was undergoing surgery, All-Pro left guard Quentin Nelson sustained an injury to his right foot that would require surgery Aug. 3. Like Wentz and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (hyperextended left elbow), Nelson was back at practice Monday on a limited basis.
“You never want injuries,’’ Wentz said, “but ironically, Q and I have the same injury, so getting to go through it at the same time together, pushing each other, encouraging each other, really getting to know each other really well.
“It’s cool to see both of us out here already as quick as we are.’’
Wentz stressed that his rehab remains ongoing, and that there is a level of pain to deal with. At least initially, the team won’t push his practice time too much.
“There’s still stuff that we have to work through, which is part of the plan,’’ he said. “You might not see me out here every single day. There might be some rest built in here and there.
“It’s just about feeling comfortable and continuing to push it a little bit, but let it heal at the same time and toeing the line every day. A lot of it is just kind of continuing to introduce new stimulus and see how it reacts.’’
And always listening to his support staff.
“I know without the trainers I’d probably overdo it,’’ Wentz said. “So, I listen to them and what they have to say.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.