PHILADELPHIA-Carson Wentz is making progress with his injured left knee. He's discarded crutches for a cane and still makes his way into the NovaCare Complex practice facility in south Philly next to Lincoln Financial Field each day his Philadelphia Eagles are working out.
His interactions with members of the media, though, are decidedly one-way. Reporters take video of the former North Dakota State quarterback hobbling his way through the parking lot, or perhaps standing on the sidelines at practice. But Wentz isn't doing interviews. He wants to focus on rehabilitating his knee and doesn't want to take any attention away from the team, according to an Eagles spokesman.
Any updates on the Bismarck Century High School graduate have to come from teammates. They say Wentz is deeply involved in trying to help the Eagles prepare, working with his quarterback replacement Nick Foles and backup Nate Sudfeld.
There is a parallel that's easy enough to see for Bison fans. When Wentz broke his wrist midway through his senior year at NDSU, he helped mentor backup Easton Stick as the Bison won eight straight games to reach the Football Championship Subdivision national title game. Wentz is now trying to help the Eagles reach the Super Bowl. They play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in the NFC Championship.
"He's still involved in game-planning. He's still kind of each and every week, dissecting film and kind of putting his input into the game plan," Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. "Obviously some things get put in and some things don't, but the guy is still all football all the time."
Wentz was having a Most Valuable Player-caliber season before tearing a ligament in his knee in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz threw for 33 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 13 games. He'd passed for nearly 3,300 yards, meaning he was likely to surpass his rookie total of 3,782 if he'd stayed healthy. Wentz total quarterback rating, as calculated by ESPN taking into account all the contributions a quarterback makes, led the NFL at 75.7. Minnesota's Case Keenum is second at 69.5 and New England's Tom Brady third at 67.1.
Just as important as the statistics was the dynamism and confidence Wentz brought to the Eagles offense. He was the unquestioned leader, one of the best players in the NFL and the franchise QB Philadelphia so sorely lacked since the Donovan McNabb years. Wentz was selected to the Pro Bowl, despite the injury.
"He's done such an amazing job in his two years in the NFL of continuing to create this atmosphere, and obviously going out there and making electric plays, but really just making everyone believe," Foles said.
So Foles' elevation to starter was not met with enthusiasm in Philadelphia. Fans were despondent and the tough Philly media were predicting the team's demise without Wentz.
It hasn't always been pretty, but Foles has played well enough-particularly in the second half of a 15-10 victory in the divisional playoff game over Atlanta-to help the Eagles within one victory of the team's first Super Bowl since 2004.
Foles acknowledges Wentz's role in getting the Eagles into the playoffs on the field and says Wentz has continued to help after the injury.
"He's still around and I love having him around," Foles said. "When we're watching film, when I'm in the game and I go to the sidelines, just talking to him, seeing what he sees."
Foles is a veteran, a third-round pick of the Eagles in 2012 out of Arizona. He was a Pro Bowler under former coach Andy Reid in 2013. The Eagles traded him to the then-St. Louis Rams in 2015 and, after the Rams drafted Jared Goff No. 1 overall (one spot ahead of Wentz) in 2016, Foles requested a trade and was dealt to Kansas City. He returned to the Eagles as a free agent before this season to backup Wentz.
It was a crucial signing for the team, given Wentz's injury. Foles tried to help the younger quarterback as much as he could-and now things are reversed.
"The roles have changed, but we still talk, we still communicate and that's something that's really special," Foles said. "Just to see his attitude and his heart throughout this whole thing, it's been amazing. 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."
Wentz will still get a Super Bowl ring, of course, if the Eagles defeat the Vikings and go on to win the big game in Minneapolis on Feb. 3. It wouldn't be the same as being on the field for the championship, but Wentz's role has been crucial.
"He loves being around the building. He loves being a part of the game plan, putting us in positions to be successful," Ertz said. "The guy is probably the smartest quarterback I've ever been around. Him and (Indianapolis') 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."