Starting QB just one of many Eagles issues

Posted: July 22, 2013

Hey, I just realized Chip Kelly hasn't named a first-string quarterback yet. Has anyone else picked up on that?

That might make a good story as training camp opens. Nobody's done one yet, right?

Well, as it turns out, the Eagles quarterback situation, and Kelly's steadfast refusal to anoint a favorite, much less a starter, has been chewed over more than a two-dollar steak. In the past month, local papers, including The Inquirer and our spunky kid sister, the Daily News, have written more than 30 stories hashing and rehashing the competition among Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, and Dennis Dixon.

It is an understandable obsession, because the quarterback position is such a hot topic any time, particularly in Kelly's new read-and-react system, and because the mere presence of Vick turns any impassive discussion into something that bursts into flames along opposite fringes of the fandom.

Kelly has said the quarterbacks themselves will make the decision. He won't have to. The seven weeks of training camp and practice leading up to the start of the regular season will give them ample opportunity to sort out the depth chart.

If there is a local consensus about what will happen, looking strictly from the outside, most people seem to think Nick Foles will be the starter against the Redskins on Sept. 9, with Vick as the backup, Barkley as the heir-in-waiting, and Dixon free to get on with his life's work, as Buddy Ryan used to say.

This belief is based on exactly nothing. Kelly hasn't even lifted an eyebrow to indicate a preference. If anything, it is based on the narrowest advantage given Foles in the number of reps during minicamps, as if that will still mean anything when the team is in pads.

It is also rooted in the assumption that Vick's greatest drawbacks, that he will indecisively hold onto the ball too long and fail to make the correct read too often, will offset his overwhelming superiority in physical talent. And further based on the yin-yang assumption that Foles' ability to react quickly and make good decisions will trump his inability to run even a little bit and the fact that his arm is not particularly strong.

"We're not trying to knock over milk bottles at the county fair," Kelly said, but sometimes a coach wants a quarterback who could.

Put it this way: Vick has a lot better chance of improving his reads than Foles has of improving his physical gifts.

As Kelly likes to point out when he reaches the edge of exasperation with the quarterback questions - which is pretty rapidly, by the way - there is a lot more that has to be monitored than merely the quarterback position during training camp.

The defense has its own set of problems, including an apparent lack of talent, but on the offensive side of the ball, the quarterback spot is just another position in major transition.

Kelly's scheme requires that the play call be given to each position simultaneously by a wigwagging sideline coach. The quarterback doesn't have to relay the call. He comes to the line and everyone is already aware of the call and the protections and options that come with it. At least, that's the plan. There are an awful lot of moving parts for that to work properly and it might be that the quarterback, whomever it is - a guy who has been dealing with receiving and interpreting play calls his whole career - is in better position to adjust to Kelly than any other position on the field.

I make Foles and Vick a toss-up to get the starting job. They both have positives and negatives. Barkley is a rookie and maybe he'll be ready soon, but not by September. Then, there is Dixon, who is being overlooked and maybe with reason. Still, he played two years at Oregon when Kelly was offensive coordinator and completed 67.7 percent of his passes as a senior before suffering a late-season knee injury.

Dixon is agile, has decent size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), can run effectively, gets rid of the ball very quickly - and did I mention the 67.7 completion percentage?

It wouldn't be that enormous a surprise if Dixon was Kelly's stand-in while he looks for a quarterback who better fits the coach's profile than either Vick or Foles. Someone has to run the offense as the line, running backs and receivers learn the dance steps. Who better than someone who has already done it, and done it successfully?

This quarterback topic is fascinating, of course, but it is just one topic on a long list as training camp opens and Kelly begins to make his real mark. He has taken the team from the Lehigh hills and moved the preparations to a sterile, all-business setting at NovaCare. After all, there is a lot of work to be done, and Kelly doesn't have time for silly questions that will eventually answer themselves, anyway.

So who will be the starting quarterback? Excellent question, but we'll have to get back to you on that one.


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

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