Foles making durable impression on Kelly

Posted: December 04, 2013

STOP ME if you've heard this before: The biggest question the Eagles must answer this season is whether Nick Foles is their quarterback for 2014 and beyond.

Maybe you're reading this and saying you're convinced, let's go. Unfortunately, you don't get to decide. The only guy whose opinion really matters stood at a NovaCare podium yesterday and took the topic on a dizzying dance, at one point seeming to assert that because Aaron Rodgers has a broken collarbone right now, he isn't really the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback, so knowing who your theoretical starter is isn't really important.

The subject was raised when Chip Kelly did his weekly bit with the 94WIP "Morning Show" and seemed to hint he was close to staking his future on Foles, the second-year quarterback who was drafted by Andy Reid.

"I hope that Nick's here for a long time. I'm a big supporter of him. I think he does a fantastic job," Kelly said. "But we also know that injuries occur in this game, and that's why I always qualify what I say. But I love the kid, and I think he's playing outstanding."

This was beyond anything Kelly had said previously about the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for November, so of course, reporters followed up at Kelly's day-after news conference.

Asked if he expects Foles to be his QB beyond this season, Kelly said: "Yeah, as long as he can stay healthy. That's what I've qualified it with all the time. That is one thing I don't think anybody can predict . . . How many quarterbacks have gone down this season in the National Football League? It's a pretty high amount. I think that's one thing everybody has to understand when you're going into this thing. It's a very, very difficult game. They take a lot of hits. I understand why they protect the quarterback in this league, because of the hits they do take. When you have a quarterback that's durable and can last, that's when you know you've got a guy."

So, Kelly seemed to be saying durability is the only thing Foles still must prove, that Kelly is willing to go forward with a QB who lacks the mobility he treasures but hasn't thrown an interception in 2013 and has compiled a 125.2 passer rating. The best-ever passer-rating season by an Eagles quarterback was when Donovan McNabb compiled a 104.7 in 2004, and the Birds went to the Super Bowl.

But Kelly wasn't going to do more than hint yesterday. When pressed, he jokingly said: "He's the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years."

Asked why he's reluctant to discuss the long-term, Kelly said: "I don't think Nick's going to come in tomorrow and say, 'I don't want to play anymore because you guys don't want me here 6 weeks from now.' So the questions I get asked about it long-term, right now is not long-term. Long-term for us is this Sunday against the Detroit Lions, that is the end of the deal."

In defense of his reluctance, Kelly said: "What do you think Green Bay feels like right now?" When a reporter replied that Rodgers is the long-term QB there, collarbone notwithstanding, Kelly said: "How did he do on Thursday? It's a semantics thing. Write whatever you want to write. I'm concerned about the Lions."

Obviously, durability is important. Durability is the reason Michael Vick, who wasn't playing all that badly, now is Foles' backup. But would, say, a hamstring injury this week against the Lions affect the Eagles' thinking about what Foles can be? It would certainly affect their ability to gather more data, to convince themselves Foles' stats 30 starts into his career will be similar to what he has compiled in 13 starts. (And only six of those starts have been in Kelly's offense.)

Kelly reiterated yesterday that Foles is "really, really smart when he has the football in his hands," his team-record streak of passes without an interception now at 233.

When November began, Foles had a huge mountain to climb, to get Kelly and the Eagles thinking about him as their future, instead of somebody more dynamic they might draft in the spring, or maybe rookie Matt Barkley. Foles is pulling himself closer and closer to the summit. When will we know he's made it? It's possible we won't really know the Eagles' plans for 2014 until 2014, and the arrival of the draft process. But from what Kelly said yesterday, it now seems possible we just might know before then, if Foles remains healthy.

When Kelly was holding that preseason QB competition between Foles and Vick, he said he hoped the result would be obvious, by the time he announced it. Kelly might be following a similar strategy with this decision.

Speaking of which, what if he had named Foles the starter back in training camp?

"We'd be undefeated, and I think everybody would cancel the season and we'd win the Super Bowl," Kelly said. "I don't look at things that way."

Just like Chip Kelly's Oregon teams, the Eagles are winning the turnover battle. It was 3-0 Sunday, including a fumble and an interception on the Cards' first two possessions, in a three-point Eagles victory. The Birds are plus-seven for the season, after that astonishing minus-24 in 2012.

"I think there are some similar concepts that they're doing that we did when we were at Oregon," Kelly said, "I think because [defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, brought in from Oregon] is here," helping emphasize what the Ducks emphasized.

"But I think [defensive coordinator Bill Davis] has done a really good job. I think a lot of times, when you don't have to devote that second safety to the box, he can see the football. Now they have a better chance to break on footballs. When you can cause a pass rush with four guys and get to the quarterback a little bit, now we have guys who have eyes back to the quarterback and kind of locate [the ball]. If you don't let the quarterback get his feet set and feel comfortable back there, he may throw one up . . . Billy said it all along, I felt as our defense continues to understand the techniques and what we're trying to do, that they're going to come in bunches, and they're starting to come in bunches."

There were no injury updates yesterday from Chip Kelly. On his 94WIP radio show, general manager Howie Roseman said the picture is unchanged from Sunday . . . Brandon Graham notched his two sacks in just 13 snaps against the Cardinals. Chip Kelly said Graham's biggest obstacle to more playing time is that he plays behind Trent Cole.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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