By Bob Ford
The Philadelphia Inquirer
It has been exactly two years since Carson Wentz began or ended the season as the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s a relatively long span in an NFL playing lifetime, and even though Wentz still seems like something of a newcomer here, he turns 27 in December and two-year stretches are more than a shrug. For his part, Wentz is done talking about injuries in general, his injury history in particular, the potential for future injuries, or just about anything concerning the back rooms at the NovaCare Complex where he has disappeared for months at a time.
“That’s something that I’ve addressed quite a bit,” Wentz said as the team prepared for Sunday’s opener against Washington. “This is week one. This is a new season. I’m just pressing on.”
You can hardly blame him for dodging around the largest elephant in the locker room. The stakes for the team are obvious, notwithstanding that lone Super Bowl trophy that was secured during one of his absences. Having a quarterback who is both elite and available is the straightest path to success. Having one who lacks either of those traits is the highway to nowhere.
Last season in the NFL, only one-half of the 32 teams had a quarterback who started all 16 regular-season games. Understand, that is the goal for every franchise every year, and only 16 teams achieved it in 2018.
There were various reasons. In some cases, guys got benched, or an up-and-coming youngster was deemed ready, or someone was rested in a meaningless end-of-season game. Mostly, though, guys got hurt.
Wentz is an odd case in some ways. He has an injury history, to be sure, but he doesn’t have a chronic injury history. There are players who always have knee problems, or always have concussion issues, or always separate their shoulders or whatever. That’s not Wentz. All of his injuries — and, yes, they are starting to stack up — have been unrelated. He broke his wrist as a senior in college, suffered rib fractures as a rookie with the Eagles, tore up his knee in his second season, and then was laid up by a stress fracture in his back last season. Those are all separate problems and, as far as one can tell, have been treated, rehabilitated, and dismissed as old news. If Wentz isn’t entirely as good as new, he is at least as sound as can be expected.
“I feel more than ready,” he said.
Bovada, the Las Vegas-based online gaming site, was asked by The Inquirer to prepare a betting line for the number of games Wentz will start during the regular season, and it is remarkably optimistic.
According to Bovada, the over-under figure is 14.5, and the money line tilts heavily toward the over. If you believe Wentz will start 15 or 16 games, you must risk $200 to win $100. If you believe Wentz will start 14 games or fewer, you stand to win $160 for every $100 bet.
That is very upbeat for a player in his fourth season who has started more than 14 games just once, and plays a position in which the opposition is trying to hit him on as many plays as possible. Maybe Bovada figures that only Eagles fans would care enough to wager on the proposition and adjusted the line to account for those betting with their hearts as much as their heads.
Or maybe this is when Wentz’s string of bad luck ends. The Eagles organization and its fans certainly hope so, even though there is no way to pad the corners of what comes with his job.
“I don’t think you ease anybody in. I think you have to go in fully prepared,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “That’s why we practice. It’s why you’ve gone through a grueling training camp, especially at that position and for Carson.”
Wentz hasn’t taken a snap in a live game since Dec. 9, and his offseason was largely bubble-wrapped, but if he had been exposed for a few series during the preseason that wouldn’t have changed the challenge of surviving a real regular season. Even Washington, which had a middle-of-the-road defense last season, brings a front that was fifth in the NFL for sacks per pass play in 2018.
“I always consider myself an aggressive-style player. It’s a fine line,” Wentz said. “You’re always making split-second decisions, and you’ve got to make the decision and live with it.”
The bottom line is that if you want what Wentz can bring, you also have to accept the risk that comes with that. Fairly or not, the quarterback is viewed as an injury risk, and will be until he isn’t. That could take a while.
What is already obvious, however, is that this season could be the dividing line both for the fans and the organization. Wentz is all out of coincidences.
A large number of supporters beyond the walls of the NovaCare Complex will finally dismiss him as an unreliable tease with one more injury. It is also true that within the walls, facing the reality of a cap-gobbling contract that begins to really eat the scenery in 2021, there will have to be some post-apocalyptic contingency plans made for the first time since Wentz was drafted.
Other than that, not much is riding on the 2019 season and the ability of Carson Wentz to see the end as well as the beginning. There are many large objects in the Eagles locker room, and many other large questions the season must answer, but that remains the elephant.
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