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Commanders designate QB Carson Wentz to return to practice

Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz, talking with offensive coordinator Scott Turner during the team's Week 6 win over the Bears in Chicago, has missed the past five games because of a finger injury. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Commanders designated quarterback Carson Wentz to return to practice Wednesday, moving him a step closer to returning as a possible backup to Taylor Heinicke. The team has 21 days to activate him and have him available on game days.

The team placed the veteran quarterback on injured reserve after he fractured his finger in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears. He played the entirety of the game and underwent surgery in Los Angeles days later. Wentz said Wednesday he didn’t feel too much discomfort during that game and didn’t realize he was shaking his hand throughout the night.

“Adrenaline’s a heck of a thing,” he said.

But postgame, Wentz knew something was wrong, and X-rays confirmed a fracture.

Heinicke took over as the Commanders’ starter in Week 7 and has gone 4-1, showing enough to earn the job going forward. Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that rookie Sam Howell will be the backup Sunday when the Commanders host the Atlanta Falcons. After Wentz is activated, Rivera said, he will take the backup decision “one game at a time.”

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Wentz said his finger feels “really good” and he has been throwing for two weeks, but neither he nor Rivera offered a timetable for when he may be activated and available on game days.

The quarterback said the injury and its timing, coming off a win on “Thursday Night Football,” were challenging to deal with. He also said the past six weeks have been “a journey” and that he understood Rivera’s decision to stick with Heinicke.

“We had a pretty brief conversation, pretty to-the-point, and it was fine,” Wentz said. “I get it. I get it. This is part of the business, and I totally understand where we’re at as a team and everything else. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to be out there. … But at the same time, I have a great relationship with Taylor and with all the guys, and I’ve been happy to see him succeed and what he’s been able to do. I’m going to do what I can to help and support him and be a part of this and stay ready to go because this league’s crazy. Things happen.”

Both Rivera and Heinicke praised Wentz for his support and handling of the news, which posed a stark contradiction to the reports out of Philadelphia in 2020 about his reaction to being benched for Jalen Hurts and his rapport with some teammates in the aftermath.

“You try not to let the circumstances and the situations change who you are just because you’re hurt, just because X, Y and Z,” Wentz said. “You try and be the same person every day, day in and day out.”

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“He’s been in all the meetings and at practice; he’s been helping me out a lot,” Heinicke said. “Our relationship has been great ever since he got here. And I understand it must be tough on him the last several weeks, but he’s put that aside and he’s helped me out a lot.”

Wentz is hosting his teammates for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday.

“My wife planned everything for Thanksgiving, so I can take zero credit for that,” Wentz said with a smile. “I’ll just show up and eat really good.”

Washington traded for Wentz in March and expressed hope he’d be its long-term answer at quarterback after years of rotating through starters. As part of the deal, the Commanders gave up a 2023 conditional third-round pick that could turn into a second-rounder depending on Wentz’s playing time. His continued absence puts that in doubt.

The Commanders are tied to Wentz this season because of his $22 million salary. But he has no guaranteed money going forward, which would allow the team to move on after the season and face no cap charge.

Wentz said he’s not thinking even so far ahead as to next week.

“I try not to play all those games in my head, because you can drive yourself mad,” he said. “… You start to think big-picture — what’s next year? — you think of careers, you think of all these things, and then I try to [hold] it back in and say: ‘Just be present. Be present, be positive, be where I’m at. Next week will take care of itself.’ ”