The Eagles have a potential MVP and the Super Bowl MVP at quarterback, and neither one is doing much in practice. For a team with perhaps the best quarterback duo in the NFL, practice this week has turned into the Nate Sudfeld show.
Nick Foles, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, has been sidelined the last two practices with what the team is labeling upper body soreness. Neither coach Doug Pederson nor Foles addressed the injury. The Eagles’ final full practice before the preseason opener is on Tuesday.
Carson Wentz, the team’s franchise quarterback, has not missed practice this summer while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but Pederson and the training staff scaled back Wentz’s workload after the first three days. He no longer participates in 11-on-11 drills because he must remain in a “controlled environment,” free from the risk of players on the ground around his feet or getting accidently hit. It’s expected to remain that way until Wentz is cleared for contact.
That leaves the Eagles with a lot of Sudfeld. He’s taken the bulk of the work the past two days, and that could be the case on Thursday when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit for the first preseason game.
“I’m sure I’ll get some reps, not sure how they’re going to spread them out,” Sudfeld said. “But I’ll be ready to go. I’m really excited about it.”
At this point, any panic would be premature. Foles missed the entire preseason last year while nursing an elbow injury. By the end of the season, he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. The difference this year is that Foles must be prepared to start Week 1, but that is still four weeks away. And though there’s mystery surrounding Wentz’s regression in practice activity, he impressed onlookers during the first weekend and nobody in the building — especially Wentz — is talking as if playing Week 1 is an impossibility.
In fact, the preseason was always going to feature a heavy dose of Sudfeld — it just might come sooner than expected in the game. Pederson has emphasized since March that this would be a big spring and summer for Sudfeld, a quarterback the Eagles are bullish about because of his development last season. He didn’t arrive in Philadelphia until Week 1 of the regular season, though, so coaches didn’t get a chance to work with him during minicamp, training camp, or the preseason. It was expected that he would get significant playing time this summer so the coaching staff and front office could get a better gauge on his development.
“A great opportunity for him to really show what he can do; solidify himself in this league as a quarterback, obviously a backup on our roster,” Pederson said last week. “But the more time he gets under center, the more experience he’s going to gain. These games are going to be valuable for him. He’s one of the players I’m excited to watch.”
Sudfeld said he’s become stronger and faster during the offseason, and also believes his mechanics improved from last season working with former assistants John DeFilippo and Frank Reich. He still wants to get his feet quicker, but he’s benefited from the increased reps and understanding the verbiage of each play. He’s curious to see how he reacts in a live game when there’s a live pass rush and different defense and he must rely on his instincts and understanding of the scheme.
At times this summer Sudfeld has flashed with passes that show why the Eagles are so excited about him. There have also been times the past two days against the first-team defense when he’s looked like a young, inexperienced quarterback, too. That’s to be expected, and there should be a better sense of his progress at the end of the month.
“I feel like it’s been a really valuable camp, obviously having so many reps,” Sudfeld said. “I feel like I’ve learned so much and improved a lot. We’re competitors. We want to be perfect every day. I never want to throw an interception. I want to throw a touchdown on every single pass. But that’s not the reality of it. Being around Carson and Nick has been awesome because we talk about the process and it’s never going to be perfect. But if you have a bad play, it’s only bad if you let it affect you or you don’t learn from it.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said he’s looking for “natural progression” from Sudfeld on Thursday and for the quarterback to show he has “command in the huddle.” That’s especially important for Sudfeld when he’s with the starting unit or more experienced players, because he wants them to trust him.
“I just want to inspire and get guys going and be a guy they look to and say, ‘We’re good, Nate’s calm, we’re good’,” Sudfeld said. “It’s a work in progress, but it’s definitely fun and interesting with those [starters], and they’ve been there for awhile and I’m the young cat coming in and tell them what to do.”
The Eagles still have practice on Tuesday, so there will be more to know after that session. But for a team with Wentz and Foles as headliners, Sudfeld will be the quarterback to watch on Thursday.