Eagles' Chip Kelly won at Oregon with different kinds of quarterbacks

Nick Foles during the regular-season finale against the Redskins. (Mel Evans/AP file)
Nick Foles during the regular-season finale against the Redskins. (Mel Evans/AP file)
Posted: April 15, 2013

When Chip Kelly coached at Oregon, the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl one year with a 5-foot-11, good-running quarterback. Another season, they made it to the BCS championship game with a 6-3 passer who ran only sparingly.

During Kelly's career in Eugene, which included two seasons as offensive coordinator and four as head coach, the Ducks also started a 6-6 guy without much mobility, another 6-3 quarterback who ran pretty decently, and finally a 6-4 solid combination of passing and running skills.

Kelly's quarterbacks were everything from red-shirt freshmen to junior-college transfers to program recruits who bided their time. None of them were what the scouting services called blue-chip prospects, but Kelly found a way to win with all of them.

The point is that the Eagles' new head coach, who has a definite idea of the kind of up-tempo offense he wants to run, doesn't necessarily have a "type" when it comes to the quarterback who will be running it.

Much of the offseason since Kelly was hired, and particularly since the Eagles opted to retain Michael Vick and to sign former Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, has been devoted to the parlor game of guessing what Kelly will do with the position this coming season. On the face of it, the assumption is that 6-6 Nick Foles, who has little mobility, doesn't really fit with Kelly's scheme, and that Vick and Dixon are more in keeping with a philosophy that the quarterback doesn't have to run, but must make opposing defenses believe he can run.

All of the figuring thus far could be tossed in the air in 11 days when the NFL draft begins and the Eagles might select their actual quarterback of the future. It is a long way from there to the beginning of September, however, and there will be no way to predict which of the leading candidates grasps what Kelly wants and is the starter for the first game of the 2013 regular season.

"I ran a high-tempo offense in college. You don't really get caught up in it," Foles said recently. "I think there are different kinds of quarterbacks, and if you look at any offense . . . you play to the strengths of whoever the quarterback is for the team. There is tempo for the offense, and that is just running plays really fast, and then there are fast quarterbacks who can run really fast. Those are two different things."

Obviously, Kelly would like to find a guy who can do all those things, but he's been a winner before without him.

Darron Thomas, who was Kelly's quarterback in 2010 and 2011, averaged only a little more than 20 yards per game rushing and took the Ducks to the BCS title game and a Rose Bowl. So, the assumption that simply because Vick's running skills have diminished, or because Foles' are almost nonexistent, neither will be in the mix, is probably wrong.

The key, as Foles indicated, is being able to execute the offense at the pace Kelly requires. That's something that Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Thomas, and Marcus Mariota were able to do at Oregon. Mariota, the 6-4 redshirt freshman, provided almost the perfect, up-tempo mix in 2012, completing an awesome 68.5 percent of his passes for 32 touchdowns and six interceptions, while running for another 752 yards and five touchdowns. That finished a string of four seasons as head coach for Kelly during which the Ducks became just the fourth team to go to a BCS bowl game in each of that many consecutive seasons. Three of his starting quarterbacks in those seasons began the year as unproven commodities.

So, one thing we can assume about Kelly is that young quarterbacks don't scare him, and it is also why the draft may be where the new coach is going to make his statement about the quarterback position.

It could be the Eagles are going to spend the fourth pick of the draft on West Virginia's Geno Smith. If that's who Kelly thinks is the perfect guy, then they should. But it might be more likely that they will not reach quite so far and wait later in the draft to select either 6-5 E.J. Manuel of Florida State or Matt Scott of Arizona.

Of the two, 6-2 Scott is the more intriguing. He'll probably go later than Manuel and be a better value, but, beyond that, he excelled in Rich Rodriguez's read-option offense with the Wildcats.

Scott preceded Foles at Arizona and then sat behind him. He actually took a red-shirt year before his senior season to get Foles out of his way. When Rodriguez was hired and he got his chance in 2012, Scott threw for 3,620 yards, completed 60 percent of his passes, and had 27 touchdown passes. He also ran for another 506 yards. And he did all of that while operating a very similar up-tempo, read-and-react offense to the one Kelly envisions.

Of course, that's just another guess. And it is as good, and as bad, as any of the other guesses regarding the Eagles' quarterback future have been.

Kelly will have a lot of guys to choose among, all shapes, sizes, and ages. That really doesn't tell us anything. In the past, his quarterbacks have not all come out of the same mold. But they have come out very quickly.

Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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