WESTFIELD – For the next 5 to 12 weeks, Jacob Eason’s the man.
That’s because for the next 5 to 12 weeks, Carson Wentz’s focus will be on rehabilitation following surgery to remove a fragment of a broken bone in his left foot. The surgery was scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday and handled by David Porter, the team’s orthopedic surgeon.
Sunday, Frank Reich took aside Eason, the Indianapolis Colts’ unquestioned backup quarterback heading into training camp, and essentially handed him new marching orders.
Hey, man, it’s your show. Let’s go.
“The job is Jacob’s right now,’’ Reich said after Monday’s practice at Grand Park Sports Campus. “He’s gotta prove it. He knows that. He has to prepare like he’s starting week 1. We don’t know if that’ll happen or not, but he’s gotta be ready.
“He’s in the driver’s seat. He’s getting the reps with the 1s and I’m believing that’s going to work out the way we want it to work out.’’
That would be a nice change, since nothing’s worked out as expected during the early portion of training camp.
That began with Reich missing the first week after a positive test for COVID-19; Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly hyperextending his left elbow, an injury expected to sideline him for two weeks; All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard yet to practice following offseason ankle surgery; and now, Wentz requiring surgery that threatens his availability for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
Wentz suffered the injury last Thursday during team drills when he felt a twinge while rolling to his right, planting and throwing.
MRI scans were taken and reviewed by Dr. Porter and noted foot and ankle specialist Robert Anderson. Everyone agreed the issue involved a broken bone in Wentz’s left foot that probably dated back to his high school days.
“All of a sudden,’’ Reich said, “that little broken bone that was lodged in there moves. It causes, as everybody knows, a lot of pain and aggravation.’’
Two options apparently were on the table: rest and rehab, and surgery.
“We wanted the most predictable outcome,’’ Reich said. “This is a long-term vision. ‘Let’s get the piece out of there, begin the rehab process and move along.’’’
The specialists were in agreement that Wentz’s rehab falls in the 5-to-12 week range.
The best case: Wentz is ready for the opener.
The worst case: He misses the first few games and the Colts attempt to stay afloat against the Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams – and perhaps week 3 against AFC South rival Tennessee – with Eason, the 2020 fourth-round pick who has yet to step on the field for a game, regular season or preseason, and in the midst of an uneven camp.
“That’s a big range and there’s no way to know where you’re gonna fall in that continuum until you get into the rehab process,’’ Reich said. “Now obviously we’re optimistic and hopeful that we can be on the front end, somewhere towards the front end of that, but the reality is you can be anywhere in that spectrum.’’
Reich has seen case studies where athletes with similar injuries return sooner, not later. And that includes a well-known local basketball player, whom he wouldn’t name.
“There’s other examples of early, but there’s examples of late, too,’’ Reich cautioned. “Just want to be real about it. That 5-to-12 week spectrum is real. We don’t know. We don’t know.’’
There apparently is clarity on the rehab process.
Following Monday’s surgery, Wentz should anticipate two weeks of doing very little physically.
“Just let it do its deal,’’ Reich said. “Then when we start into the rehab after two weeks, the next week or two we should start to get a time frame for a return.’’
A few weeks into Wentz’s active rehab he should be able to do some throwing and perhaps participate in the team’s walk-throughs.
At some point the Colts will determine whether Wentz’s rehab will allow him to play, even though he undoubtedly would do so with some level of pain in his left foot.
“Knowing Carson, I’m optimistic,’’ said Reich. “Knowing that this is the type of injury you don’t have to be pain-free to play; I know Carson’s level of toughness. I know he can play with pain.
“With this injury, listening to the doctors, you have to get to an acceptable level of pain, and then you can start playing. That could happen early, and then if you decide he can play, then it just keeps getting better as we go, playing for a few weeks with that pain.
“The best case, though, is the pain leaves early.’’
The rest and rehab and keep fingers crossed never was a serious option.
“Never really got that close to the (rehab) option,’’ Reich said. “We thought surgery was the best option right from the start after that initial discussion with both doctors. If we don’t and we rehab, it’s going to be fine in a couple of weeks, but if it creeps up back in the middle of the season, then you’re out 5-to-12 weeks and that’s not going to work out.’’
Reich was adamant to reinforce Eason, the entire quarterback room that sudden lacks meaningful experience aside from Brett Hundley and the entire roster.
“We’ve got a good roster,’’ he said. “If he has to miss a game or two, we’ll be fine.’’
Yet again, the Colts are dealing with serious availability issues at quarterback. That’s in stark contrast to the Peyton Manning era. After being selected with the 1st overall pick in the 1998 draft, the member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 started all 16 games for 13 consecutive seasons – 208 straight games.
Since Manning’s departure after, the Colts have had two quarterbacks start all 16 games: Andrew Luck in 2012-14 and ’18, and Philip Rivers last season.
Reich indicated the Colts have no immediate plans to sign a veteran quarterback.
“We’re very confident in the quarterback room that we have,’’ he said.
The problem is, for the next 5-to-12 weeks that room will be without Carson Wentz. Remember, he was considered the long-term answer at quarterback when general manage Chris Ballard acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles at the cost of a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 pick that becomes a first rounder if Wentz appears in 75% of the offensive snaps or 70% if the Colts make the playoffs.
That conditional 2022 pick suddenly is in question. Using the 75%/no playoff scenario with 60 snaps per game, Wentz needs to play in 11 full games and roughly a half of a 12th.