Wentz still weighing options after return from COVID list

NFL

INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Carson Wentz spent three days attending Zoom meetings and rehabbing his injured left foot at home.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback also used the time to think about how to avoid another trip to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

On Thursday, Wentz returned to practice still unvaccinated but with a stronger commitment to the league’s safety protocols after he and two other starters were activated.

”I’ve weighed a lot of things, I’ve factored in everything,” he said. ”I know what’s at stake, I know all of those things and like I said, it’s just where I’m at, where I’m at with my family. That’s why just understanding the protocol to truly try everything we can to avoid what happened this week, it is what it is. The protocols are in place. So we’ve got to honor them as best we can so we can avoid what happened.”

This was a big week for Wentz – for all the wrong reasons.

Coach Frank Reich announced Sunday he wanted to test Wentz’s foot to see if it could withstand the rigors of an NFL game. The plan was to use Wentz at all four workouts without limitations for the first time since he had a bone fragment removed Aug. 2.

Instead, team officials were forced to revise the schedule when Wentz, center Ryan Kelly and receiver Zach Pascal were deemed to be close contacts to someone who tested positive for the virus. Because league protocols require unvaccinated players to sit out – vaccinated players do not if they continue to test negative – a public debate ensued about Wentz’s vaccination status and that of the Colts, who have one of the league’s lowest vaccination rates.

While Wentz, Kelly and Pascal were all out Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the former North Dakota State star naturally became the biggest target. Wentz was criticized in the media and by fans who warmly embraced him after being traded from Philadelphia to Indy in March.

Reich even had to come to Wentz’s defense Tuesday when he was asked if Wentz’s aversion to take the shot demonstrated a lack of leadership.

The questions continued when Wentz returned to the field, still limited though taking most of the first-team snaps.

”It felt great to finally get out there in full pads,” he said. ”Obviously, I’d hoped to get out there earlier this week.”

What everyone wants to know now is whether Wentz will be the starter Sept. 12 against Seattle?

The answer might not come until next Thursday. Indy doesn’t practice again until Monday and Wentz hasn’t been full-go on consecutive days since late July.

Reich is optimistic.

”He’s got to come back Monday and if all goes well then he’ll go and Wednesday and then we’ll see,” he said. ”The only way that would be inhibited is if he couldn’t go Thursday.”

The virus isn’t the only thing that could put Indy at a disadvantage.

Team officials announced four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton, third-string quarterback Sam Ehlinger and second-year receiver Dezmon Patmon were put on injured reserve.

Hilton had surgery on a injured disk in his neck earlier this week, a procedure general manager Chris Ballard said gave Hilton instant relief. They’re not sure how much time he’ll miss but expect him back later this season.

Ehlinger sprained his right knee in the preseason finale at Detroit. Patmon is out with a foot injury.

And, as the Colts already have learned, vaccinations aren’t necessarily the answer, either.

Nine players have already been on the COVID-19 list, most as close contacts. Reich missed the first week of training camp and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus missed the first two games after positive tests. Both coaches were fully vaccinated.

”I know what it felt like last year to not have the main guys up there, you lose a big game against Tennessee, at home, we should have won and had the division title,” unvaccinated All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard said. ”We’re not going to do anything stupid as hell to put our team or our teammates in jeopardy of that.”

So while this week’s absence gave Wentz time to rethink his decision and what he could do better, he’s yet not ready to get the shots.

”This has been a fluid process for me this whole time,” he said. ”That’s kind of where we’ve been as a family, we’ve just been monitoring everything we can, letting it play out as long as we can. This is where we’re at today and things could change in the next coming week, who knows?”

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