Eagles' QB coach sees growth in Foles

ASSOCIATED PRESS Nick Foles (right) should be better with a regular-season game under his belt, according to position coach Doug Pederson (left).
ASSOCIATED PRESS Nick Foles (right) should be better with a regular-season game under his belt, according to position coach Doug Pederson (left).
Posted: November 27, 2012

Nick Foles, Take 2.

Eagles quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson said last week that Foles' struggles in his starting debut were not unexpected - despite all the sunny talk that preceded the Birds' disastrous trip to Washington - and Pederson said he thinks there is reason to expect more from the rookie Monday night against Carolina.

Asked where trouble for Foles was most predictable, Pederson said: "The pace and the speed of the game in the second half. The fact that we got in such a hole early and never climbed out of it. You can kind of foresee some of those issues as you go along. He'll be much better this weekend, just handling those situations. Overall, he played about like I expected, as a rookie quarterback. [The main issue is just getting] that valuable game experience."

Starting for concussed Michael Vick, as he will again against the Panthers, Foles completed 21 of 46 passes for 204 yards, two early interceptions and a 40.5 passer rating. In the second half, Foles was just 9-for-24 for 84 yards, though he did avoid turning the ball over.

"He's got to understand the pace of the game. He's got to understand how his drop correlates to a particular route, to the particular coverage he's seeing, whether it's slowing it down or speeding it up," Pederson said. "That's what he has to understand. Game experience can only benefit him in that regard. Understanding coverage, understanding the speed of the game, and then utilizing his own strengths, which are his ability to throw the football, his arm strength. He's just got to learn to speed his feet up and be in a better position to make throws."

Head coach Andy Reid offered a similar assessment of Foles after Saturday's practice: "I thought this week's practice was better than last. I thought he was just more comfortable in there playing. Didn't have any problems spittin' all the stuff out, just knowing how to take the drops, make the drops work with the coverages and the players that you're playing with, making sure you have a good feel, spending time after practice."

After failing to move the Eagles to a touchdown against a pliable Redskins defense, Foles was upset with himself, Pederson said - an assessment borne out in Foles' postgame news conference.

"He was very down. He was very dejected. He felt like he let the team down," Pederson said. "Even though he's a rookie, he's very mature that way, and it bothered him."

When Vick banged his head against the turf early in the second quarter of the Nov. 11 loss to Dallas, the jobs of Pederson and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg changed a little. They went from dealing with the issues of a 32-year-old veteran to working with a rookie, who not only hadn't thrown a pass in an NFL game before going in for Vick that day, he hadn't worked in practice with the first-team offense, the way a starter does, since the preseason.

On-field prep time is severely limited by the collective bargaining agreement, and by the demands of the 16-game season. Until Vick went down, Foles ran the scout team, mimicking the plays of that week's opponent, giving the first-team defense a "look." The scout-team QB is encouraged to throw up lollipops for the defense to practice picking off. As preparation for jumping into games goes, it is less than ideal.

"You would like to [have more practice time]. Even when I was a backup quarterback, you would have liked to have had one or two reps a day with the starters, just in case. But we're so limited in time, we can't do that," Pederson said. "We have to get our starter ready to play 60 minutes of football, and it just falls on the backup two quarterbacks to get all the mental reps during the practice sessions and then in the meeting room. They've got to do a lot of studying on their own."

Even now that Foles is playing, "a lot of the preparation falls on the player," Pederson said. The Eagles haven't dumbed down their offense, he said, though they did rediscover the screen game against the Redskins. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues against the Panthers, with LeSean McCoy, who led Eagles receivers with six catches for 67 yards against Washington, out of the lineup with a concussion. Rookie Bryce Brown, starting in McCoy's place, has caught just one pass this season, for 8 yards, back in the Sept. 23 loss at Arizona.

"Foles can handle the mental side of the game, just like Michael Vick can, just like Trent Edwards can," Pederson said. "That part of it doesn't change. The only difference is that he hasn't had game reps. That's why last week was vital for his growth."

The last time the Eagles decided to start a rookie QB in the middle of the season, Pederson was involved, in a different role. In 1999, he was the veteran starter brought in as a placeholder for Donovan McNabb until Reid decided McNabb was ready to play, which turned out to be Nov. 14 against the Redskins.

"It was very similar," said Pederson, who is acutely aware that the '99 Birds had one offensive weapon, current special-teams and running-backs assistant Duce Staley, who ran for 1,273 yards. "The only difference is that the team now is better. There's more talent on the football team than we had when we first started in '99 . . . Now, a guy like Nick or Trent can kind of step in and keep it going, because we have the pieces in place offensively that he can utilize."

Another difference is that, as many people have noted, given the five Week 1 rookie quarterback starters, colleges are preparing QBs better for the NFL now.

"They're asked to do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage - not only progressions and reads, but to change plays," Pederson said. "When they come to us, they know how to redirect protection, they know how to ID a MIKE linebacker or understand blitzes."

Pederson has a closer perspective on Foles than fans have gotten this year. What are his impressions?

"He's a good old boy. He's very relaxed. He's very energetic. He's complimentary of the guys around him," Pederson said. "He's very unassuming; he's very humble that way. I think that comes from his parents and his upbringing. He's kind of a quiet leader type. I watched him on the sideline, he went around tapping guys on the back, high-fiving a guy, waiting for the extra point to be kicked so he can go high-five his offensive linemen - he's that type of leader."

" @LesBowen

Blog: eagletarian.com

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