Eagles quarterback Nick Foles showing progess, parallels to Donovan McNabb

Posted: December 06, 2012

The last time Andy Reid handed over his offense to a rookie quarterback, it was part of a carefully designed plan to develop Donovan McNabb into a franchise quarterback.

That isn't the case as Nick Foles takes his place at the top of the depth chart. Nothing about the Eagles looks carefully designed. They have lost eight games in a row and Reid is very likely in his final season - not his first.

It is not an ideal environment for a rookie quarterback. That is why Foles' fellow 2012 draftees - especially Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson - have been handled delicately by their coaching staffs. They have responded with some very big performances.

Foles didn't have the luxury of a Luck, a Griffin or a McNabb. They were targeted at the top of their drafts and treated as the embodiments of their franchises' futures. Foles was a third-round pick for a team whose head coach and starting quarterback were under intense pressure to win now.

Under Reid's plan, McNabb waited behind veteran Doug Pederson for more than half a season. In an effort to minimize the pressure on him, McNabb's media availability was carefully managed. McNabb saw spot duty in games and gradually took more reps with the first team in practice. Reid timed his first start by gauging not just the rookie QB's progress, but that of teammates who were also learning a new offense.

The approach with Foles has been different by necessity. He has been just another guy in the locker room as far as media access is concerned. And if he was practicing with the first team, as McNabb did, that has been a carefully guarded secret. Reid closed practices to the media back in September. Foles certainly wasn't getting a few plays here and there in games - the pressure to win was too great for Reid to take chances like that.

There is no such pressure now. Foles may give the Eagles as good a chance as Michael Vick to win games at this point, but that is no longer the primary concern. Now it really is about developing and evaluating Foles.

The only relevant question is whether Foles will be hampered by the different circumstances of his rookie year. There is no way to know at this point, but there are some interesting and encouraging parallels with McNabb's rookie year.

Pederson was around both times. He mentored McNabb as a player, while he serves now as the quarterbacks coach.

McNabb made his starting debut in Week 10 against Washington. Foles made his first start in Week 10 against Washington. McNabb was merely OK in a win. Foles was less than OK in a loss.

McNabb lost his next four starts. Foles has lost his next two, with a chance to snap that streak Sunday in Tampa.

In his third start, McNabb had a 99.1 passer rating in a loss at Washington. He threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions. In his third start, Foles had a 96.6 passer rating Sunday night in Dallas. He threw one TD and zero interceptions.

That's hardly enough data to form a judgment, but we're more interested in the future. After going 2-4 as a starter in 1999, McNabb went 11-5 and took his team to the playoffs in 2000.

One big change: After playing behind a makeshift offensive line that included Steve Everitt at center and Lonnie Palelei at right tackle, McNabb had Jon Runyan, Bubba Miller and Jermane Mayberry in 2000 - with Tra Thomas, the core group for several successful seasons to come.

Foles is playing behind an improvised starting five that showed some fight Sunday. But next year should see a stronger unit with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans back in action.

Can Foles make the same kind of progress McNabb did? How would a new coaching staff, with a new offensive scheme, affect him? What if that new coach prefers to draft his own McNabb, his own Luck, his own Griffin instead of working with Foles?

That is ultimately the biggest difference for Foles. Reid knew he would sink or swim based on McNabb's development. Whatever happens with Foles, the coach is already sunk.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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