How quickly can Carson Wentz look like his old self?
PHILADELPHIA—Is this going to be the real Carson Wentz the Philadelphia Eagles play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, the hip-wiggling, pass-rush-sidestepping, MVP-level quarterback who doesn't need an immaculate pocket to make big plays?
Doug Pederson was asked that question more than once Monday, after the Eagles' coach announced that Wentz has been medically cleared and is ready to take his job back from Nick Foles, nine months and four days after surgery to repair left ACL and LCL injuries.
Two things about Pederson's answers: 1) He doesn't think carefully tiptoeing Wentz back into the fray is any kind of option, and 2) Bottom line, Pederson doesn't really know how mobile and elusive Wentz can be, wearing a knee brace, with his knee probably still at least a couple of months from feeling the way it felt before he injured it. Nobody knows. Usually it's a full year after surgery before everything is completely back to normal.
Pederson said he will issue the usual cautions about the need for a QB to protect himself, "but there are no limitations."
"The thing is, I'm not going to coach scared. I'm not going to coach paranoid," Pederson said. He added that game plans might feature more max protection. "But I don't think that things are going to change too much."
Medical professionals who have dealt with these kinds of injuries say Wentz, the third-year pro from North Dakota State, probably won't be the 2017 version right away.
"The brace alone will limit his mobility," said one orthopedic surgeon who has worked with pro athletes, who preferred not to be quoted by name. That surgeon added that typically, there are psychological barriers to be overcome, such as "making hard cuts and changing direction" while exposed to contact, something that never happens to quarterbacks in practice.
The surgeon said the LCL injury will create at least a little looseness in Wentz's knee that will never go away, that he will notice when making hard cuts, and will have to get used to feeling.
Another sports orthopedic surgeon, who also asked not to be identified, said "you're not going to see the same Carson Wentz" right away. He compared Wentz to "a Ferrari that hasn't raced in a while." He also reiterated what the first surgeon said about practice and games being very different.
"You can expect him to be a little tentative when there are guys falling in front of his leg," he said. But he added that all quarterbacks coming back from such injuries go through this, and after a few weeks, they adjust.
The Eagles have been listing Wentz as "limited" in practice because until Monday, he was not cleared for contact. Pederson was asked if he'd considered giving Wentz another week or so as a full practice participant before starting him.
"He's cleared, he goes. I've said all along that he's our guy, we drafted him to be our guy," said Pederson, who compared the situation to his decision to sit out some starters during the preseason, then rely on them heavily for Week 1. Fans might have noticed that the two players Pederson specifically referenced — Jason Peters and Darren Sproles — are both nursing minor injuries right now.
"It's going to take some time (for Wentz) to get back into the rhythm and flow of the game," Pederson said.
The final question of Pederson's news conference was another stab at asking him about Wentz's mobility, Wentz's ability to buy time in the pocket. Will that be there for him Sunday?
"We'll see," Pederson said, and left the lectern.