Eagles' QB battle just beginning

Posted: August 10, 2013

The joke is on anyone who thought the preseason opener represented the finish line in the Eagles' quarterback derby.

As Chip Kelly made clear Thursday, Michael Vick and Nick Foles are really much closer to the starting line. That may not please the players, and it may annoy the heck out of the fans and the media, but it is actually consistent with what Kelly has been saying.

"I've said it all along," said Kelly. "It's very difficult to evaluate somebody in just helmets and shorts. That's not how the game is played."

Vick will start against the Patriots on Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Foles will start next Thursday against Carolina, also at home. Kelly will try to get each of them the same number of snaps with the rest of the first-team offense. After that, it is up to them.

Maybe the most interesting revelation wasn't which QB would start, but that rookie Matt Barkley will get the most overall playing time. Barkley will play the second and third quarters, with some wiggle room based on how the game develops.

As Kelly attempts to build a winning program here, it may wind up being a footnote whether Vick or Foles starts Sept. 9 at Washington. Barkley, the only quarterback he drafted, is going to get plenty of game time for development and evaluation purposes. He may be a long shot to start the season at No. 1, but that doesn't make him a long shot to finish the season at No. 1.

The emphasis on game-speed evaluation is necessitated, in part, by the kind of camp Kelly is running. There has been less hitting and less full-speed action than at any Eagles camp in anyone's memory. Some of that is the leaguewide change in work rules, but some of it is Kelly's preference.

Most coaches secretly like when players get into fights during practice. It shows a certain mean streak and indicates that the intensity level is high. Kelly gives his players a timeout when they're naughty.

Andy Reid, and every Eagles coach before him, used the live-action portions of camp heavily in their evaluation process. The exhibition games were more of a chance to get some work in against unfamiliar schemes and players. Of course, Reid also knew who his No. 1 quarterback was.

The last two years, it was Vick. He wasn't playing preseason games to win a job. That's a good thing, since he had a 45.9 passer rating in the 2011 preseason and a 62.2 rating in just two brief appearances last year.

Aaron Rodgers had a 53.8 rating in 2012 preseason games. Tom Brady's was 75.7. They managed to start for their respective teams.

By comparison, Drew Brees put up a 111.7 rating last summer. Matt Ryan's was 112.4 in Atlanta. Conclusion: Around the NFL, the preseason numbers are irrelevant for elite quarterbacks.

The message Kelly has delivered clearly is that he does not have an elite quarterback. Or at least that he doesn't yet know whether any of his quarterbacks can be elite in his offense. After three days of watching Brady work, it's a wonder Kelly didn't just lock himself in his office with a bottle of Irish whiskey until the 2014 draft.

Instead, he faces this reality. Vick has tools, but if he were going to be as good and as consistent as Brady, he would have been by now. Foles and Barkley still have upside to explore. All three will have opportunities to separate themselves from the pack in the preseason.

That's one reason these are more fascinating than typical preseason games. Another is that it is the first time we'll see these Eagles clearly, without any of Kelly's smoke and mirrors obscuring the view. There will be no giant flyswatters or rationales for various personnel groupings.

He will field 11 men on offense and 11 men on defense. We will get to see who plays where, and what the results are. Even if they don't count, they will tell us more about the direction of this team than anything that has happened so far.

"The games aren't scripted," said Kelly.

Even though he's the man with the script, that idea seemed pretty appealing to him.

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

comments powered by Disqus