PHILADELPHIA -- Just because Carson Wentz won’t be on the field Sunday in the NFC Championship Game doesn’t mean he isn't supporting the team. He has just taken on a new role as the Philadelphia Eagles have embarked on a playoff run that has them one win away from the Super Bowl.
Wentz, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 10, is still at the Eagles' facility every day by 6 a.m. watching film with his fellow quarterbacks until 8:30 a.m. Wentz also sits in on some of the team meetings that follow. It's not until they reach the install phase for that week’s game that Wentz dips out to get into his rehabilitation.
There has been progress on that end. The MVP candidate has already gone from two crutches, to one crutch, to a cane. He has limped into practice this week (after the media left) to watch his teammates prepare for the Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s hoping to walk soon,” backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld said Thursday afternoon. “He’s really tough. He’s continuing to just up the game.”
Wentz, who threw 33 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 13 games before the injury, hasn’t talked since the devastating blow. He doesn’t want to take away from his teammates and is intent on focusing on his rehab.
But he’s hardly detached. The moment Wentz was able to protect himself and not be in harm’s way, he was on the sideline with his teammates. With one crutch in tow, Wentz wore a headset and stood next to Sudfeld on the sideline of Saturday’s 15-10 playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons.
It was as if Wentz and Nick Foles seamlessly switched roles, according to Sudfeld. Wentz and Sudfeld heard the playcalls and broke it down from there.
“We stand next to each other on the sideline, ‘Oh, what is he going to do here? OK, the safety is coming down. Check this,’” Sudfeld explained of their conversations. “It’s just like how Nick and I were when Carson was out there. It’s the two of you on the sideline talking through it.”
While Wentz has been careful not to step on any toes -- he knows he’s not a coach -- he is there for support. He willingly answers questions from Foles or Sudfeld without hesitation.
Foles, who inherited the starting job when Wentz was injured, said he's using his injured teammate as an in-game asset. Wentz was providing tidbits throughout the divisional-round playoff victory.
“Yeah, we'll go over there ... it has always been Nate, him and I," Foles said. "The roles have changed, but we still talk, we still communicate, and that's something that's really special, and just to see his attitude and his heart throughout this whole thing, it's been amazing.
“You know, it's really cool to have him around and do this all together because our relationship in the QB room has stayed the same, and we continue to work together.”
That Wentz is around isn’t unique. Coach Doug Pederson has encouraged his injured players to remain involved, when possible. Veteran offensive tackle Jason Peters has become a mainstay on the sideline and served as a mentor to Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Their presence has been noticed.
“I still want Carson to be a part of the process,” Pederson said last week. “He's a big reason why we're 13-3 and where we are today. So, same way with the rest of the guys that are hurt. I do want them to feel a part of what we're doing and help their positions where they can.”
Wentz has been careful not to overstep. He’s not speaking up about every idea he has, like when he was running the offense, according to Sudfeld. Instead, he interjects occasionally and serves more as an additional resource for Foles in the quarterbacks room.
“He's still involved in the game planning,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “He's still kind of each and every week I think he's dissecting the film, kind of giving his input into the game plan. Obviously some things get put in and some things don't, but the guy is still all football all the time. He loves being around the building. He loves being a part of the game plan, putting us in positions to be successful. The guy is probably the smartest quarterback I've ever been around. Him and Andrew Luck are neck and neck.
“So he's an unbelievable quarterback in terms of seeing the game, and I think his input has allowed Nick to play at a high level, too.”
Wentz is playing his part, even though it's a much smaller part. He knows it's Foles’ team for the time being.
They’re hoping it works through the Super Bowl. The Eagles are two wins away from achieving something that has eluded them throughout the franchise's entire history. After that, Wentz can drop the titles of cheerleader and part-time coach and get back to being the franchise quarterback.