Carson Wentz strolled to the podium Tuesday after Eagles practice with a cut hand and bloody towel. No big deal, but a reminder of the fragility that comes with playing football and limited Wentz to 24 preseason passing attempts a year ago. A fractured rib in his first game as an Eagle knocked him out for the rest of 2016’s exhibitions.
A lot has happened in the year since. The Eagles traded Sam Bradford to Minnesota and promoted Wentz from third-string rookie to full-time starter. Come Thursday, when the Eagles take on the Packers in Green Bay for their first preseason game of 2017, the team will be cautious with its franchise quarterback. Wentz will start, head coach Doug Pederson said, but it would be a surprise if he played more than a series or two.
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. For the first time in what feels like forever, Wentz will wear a jersey that is not red. He grew up as a fan of Brett Favre and will play at Lambeau Field, the stadium Favre roamed for years. He'll get a chance to try out his new toys on offense and possibly get knocked down to shake off the cobwebs. Then he’ll likely watch at least three quarters of Matt McGloin and Dane Evans running the offense.
“Obviously, he’s not going to play a ton in the preseason,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday. “It’s more about the consistency of practicing every day, where last year he missed so much time.
“But there is something to build on the chemistry with your guys in the huddle and having some success. You want to build that confidence.”
That chemistry is part of the preseason’s appeal. Wentz has new weapons in wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount. But Jeffery hasn’t participated in team drills in a week because of a shoulder issue, and Blount missed three days last week because he had to tend to a personal issue.
Thursday night will be everyone’s first chance to get acclimated to how the other operates on game day. Not to anyone’s surprise, Wentz said he’s excited.
“Just get out there with the new faces in the huddle,” Wentz said of what he plans to get out of the game. “Get used to these game situations. I think situational football is a big part of the NFL and being smart in those situations.”
And if the situation entails throwing the football, Wentz will face pass rushers who can actually hit him. That’s not the case even when the Eagles include live tackling during practice, which itself is rare. Wentz could get hit and that’s a good thing. Last year’s injury hasn’t affected his mindset.
“If you're scared to get hurt, you wouldn't play this game, ultimately,” Wentz said. “I think the live pass rush will be good to go out there and start feeling some things. In practice, you try to make it game-like, you try to react the way you would, but when you're live, things are a little different.”
The situation with Wentz’s protection could contribute to how often the Packers infiltrate his pocket. Starting right guard Brandon Brooks missed practice Tuesday with what Pederson called an ankle strain. Chance Warmack has filled in so far.
“The good thing about what we did this offseason was we got some depth up front,” Wentz said. “So whoever it is that'll step up on Thursday night, I know they'll be ready.”
Wentz sounds like he will be ready, too. He just won't have to be ready for much.