John Smallwood: Better for Eagles if rookies aren't in spotlight

Nick Foles has looked great but the Eagles would prefer not to see the No. 2 quarterback line up.
Nick Foles has looked great but the Eagles would prefer not to see the No. 2 quarterback line up. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 07, 2012

THE IRONY of the 2012 Eagles draft class is that the one rookie who could ultimately have the most effect on how the season turns is the one nobody hopes to have to rely on.

Despite being a third-round draft pick, Nick Foles was not selected with the thought that he would be the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback.

That was going to be either third-year player Mike Kafka or former Buffalo starter Trent Edwards, signed as a free agent.

But Foles' play during training camp and in the preseason earned him the immediate backup spot behind Michael Vick.

And that means that unless the status quo changes, Foles is going to get the first shot at replacing Vick should the oft-injured quarterback go down for the third straight season as the Eagles starter.

You can't sidestep Vick's history of missing games. He has missed six starts due to injury in two seasons as the starter in Philadelphia.

Vick got hurt in each of the first two games of the preseason, and caution over further injury limited him to 12 snaps in the preseason.

The guy might have the competitive heart of a tiger, but his body is as brittle as a tabby.

The odds clearly favor him missing some games because he will get hurt.

Unless the status quo changes, the odds say that Foles will have to negotiate his way through two, three, maybe more starts at some point during this season.

In 2011, the Eagles went 1-2 in games that Vick missed. They finished 8-8.

The New York Giants won the NFC East with a 9-7 record and went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2010, Kevin Kolb went 2-2 in the games Vick missed. The Eagles and Giants both finished 10-6, but the Birds won the NFC East.

Given how close the NFC East is again predicted to be, the play of Foles, should he have to replace Vick for a few games, could very well determine a playoff spot for the Eagles.

But again, Foles is the first-year guy the Eagles hope they don't have to rely on.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a second-round pick, were selected with the expressed intent of their making immediate impact plays.

And fourth-round cornerback Brandon Boykin isn't just being counted on as a kick returner, but he has won the key role as the nickel back, beating out veteran Joselio Hanson.

Considering how much shuffling happens on the offensive line, rookies Dennis Kelly, out of Purdue, and Nate Menkin, from Mary Hardin-Baylor, could find themselves in a position to contribute.

"Obviously, the thing that I lack is [NFL] experience," said Boykin, who won the 2011 Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile college player. "I think athletically-wise and ability-wise, I have that. I can play with anybody, I know that. But the experience is something you don't get right away. It's going to take getting thrown into that fire and then doing it every week."

Boykin, Cox and Kendricks are the three rookies who really have to perform, or the Eagles could suffer.

Whether Cox starts isn't all that relevant, but the 6-4, 298-pounder is a vital part of the defensive-line rotation that could hold the key to the Eagles' season.

Cox has even more pressure to perform with veteran d-tackle Mike Patterson out while continuing to recover from brain surgery.

He had 56 tackles and five sacks last season at Mississippi State.

Cox had three tackles in preseason play, but eye-catching statistics aren't always the key indicator of how a defensive tackle is performing.

Some of it is just demanding so much attention that it makes it easier for other guys to do their jobs more effectively.

Kendricks, out of the University of California, is the latest rookie to get a shot at helping to revitalize the Birds' seemingly always-suspect linebacking corps.

He was penciled in as the strong-side linebacker on draft night and hasn't done anything to make the coaching staff regret that decision.

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has said that Kendricks, who had 13 tackles in the preseason, is "relentless."

Kendricks' preseason play has eased concerns that he could be like 2011 draftee Casey Matthews, who was overmatched by immediately trying to transition from fourth-round pick to NFL starting middle linebacker.

But Kendricks knows the real tests don't begin until Sunday when the Eagles open the season at Cleveland.

"I'm excited," said Kendricks, the 2011 Pac-12 defensive player of the year who was tagged by many as a first-round pick. "It's the first real game of the season.

"Any time someone has placed hope in you, you want to meet their expectations. The pressure is going to be there. It's just whether you are going to rise to the occasion or not.

"That's whether people are expecting things of you or not. You want to perform well to your own standards. I want to do the best to the ability that I know I am capable of performing."

Foles was the rookie with the most eye-catching preseason, but a lot of that was due to the position he plays and the circumstances he found himself in.

But if Foles, not Cox or Kendrick, ends up making the biggest impact by an Eagles rookie, that won't necessarily be a good thing.


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com.

 

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