Zach Ertz returned to practice Wednesday for the Philadelphia Eagles, less than a month after undergoing surgery to repair a torn core muscle.

No. 86 was a limited participant in the Eagles’ practice session, their first in preparation for next Monday night’s season opener in Atlanta. But he came away from his first session after spending the last several weeks observing from the sideline feeling good and put himself in better position to perhaps suit up for Philadelphia’s season opener against the Falcons. According to Eagles Coach Chip Kelly, it’s going to be a matter of how he progresses throughout the week toward that game.

“Zach did a good job. He was limited in practice,” Kelly said on Thursday morning, before Zach participated in his second straight practice. “Just him and [linebacker Marcus Smith] were limited [Wednesday]. We know we’re getting them back, but we’re not going to throw them in full, put them in deep end of the pool and tell them to swim. So [Zach] was limited in his reps. He said he didn’t feel any real residual [effects] from it but we still have two more days of training so, we’ll see how it plays itself out. But in the limited reps [Wednesday], he said he felt good…We’re just going to take it day-by-day. He’s limited again [Thursday].”

Zach had been out since Aug. 12, when he went down after hard contact with linebacker Mychal Kendricks in practice. Two days later, core injury specialist Dr. William Meyers operated on the Philly tight end. However, Zach revealed after practice on Wednesday that the core injury is something that has been bothering him since early in his NFL career, and that he’s glad to finally have rectified the issue.

“I’ve been hampered by this for a long time — I think it happened midway through my rookie year probably,” Zach told reporters. “It’s something that I’ve been battling through for a while, just getting it warmed up. It was a full-day process getting it going and warmed up to practice. In the long run, it could be a blessing in disguise that I got this done and hopefully all the pain I’ve been going through is behind me.”

After going through a full practice with his team, Zach stayed after and worked catching passes from a Jugs machine. Throughout his recovery, he has still been in attendance, keeping himself in-tune mentally during practices. Those mental reps, in addition to his established rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford, will help him to be as sharp as possible when the season begins.

“I was out there playing the game mentally, watching practice film, talking to Sam about what he saw even though I wasn’t the guy running [the route],” he said. “Sam and I kind of see the game the same way, which helps.”

The intent has always been for Zach to return to the field at full strength, and hopefully in time for the team’s Monday Night Football season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. The Stanford product wants nothing more than to suit up with his team under the lights at the Georgia Dome, and he is on schedule to do so—although he remains a game-time decision, as neither he nor the Eagles want to risk further injury by rushing him back on the field before he is fully healed.

“The doctor cleared me, that’s about all I can go from,” Ertz said. “I’ve approached it to get healthy for this game and I think I’ve made strides in that department…I don’t want to miss any games. I worked so hard all offseason to be ready for the games and make an impact for this team, so when the games come around, if I have an opportunity to play I’m gonna play. Obviously, we have to be smart with it because it’s the first game of a long season and hopefully a long playoff run as well, so at the end of the day we’re going to be smart about it.”

The recovery timetable was initially set at four to six weeks, and Monday’s game will put him three days past the four-week mark. The third-year tight end has played in all 32 regular-season games thus far in his career, in addition to one appearance in the 2013 postseason.

Health permitting, he’ll look to make it 34 consecutive games played when the Eagles and the Falcons kick off at 6:55 p.m. ET Monday night on ESPN.

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