Foles acting like a team leader

Posted: May 30, 2014

THERE ARE no franchise quarterbacks in college football. No sooner do you make them a star than they're on to greener pastures, and you are out on the road again, schmoozing high school coaches and wooing moms, looking for that guy who can step right in without too much tinkering, that guy who can continue to run the kind of stuff you like to run.

At this time last year, it was believed that Chip Kelly would wait to find that guy, spend a full NFL season with a 33-year-old quarterback whose foot speed, while reduced from its peak years, would allow him to test out the "spread" offense that was so successful at the University of Oregon and the University of New Hampshire before that, and made Kelly himself the axis of a sometimes contentious debate among those within the NFL community.

One apparent certainty: Nick Foles would be traded. This was less debate than assumption. He couldn't run any faster than, well, Chip. He simply didn't fit.

Four quarterbacks are wearing an Eagles uniform during this week's OTAs. It is unclear whether any of them, particularly the three likely to make the team, could beat their coach in a footrace.

What is clear is that it would be a race.

What is also clear is that no matter how well or for how long Foles holds up in his second season as the team's starter, the offense will need to be "tweaked" much less than when Michael Vick's pulled hamstring turned the last Eagles season upside down in so many ways.

Vick's misfortune launched not only one of the most eye-popping partial seasons for a quarterback ever - Foles' 27 touchdown passes, two interceptions - it also altered the professional perception of Kelly as a one-trick gimmick destined to finish his first NFL season with a team full of practice-squad players.

The Eagles were the healthiest NFL team a year ago. The irony is that their most significant injury, to Vick, triggered not chaos but an opportunity to establish continuity and stability moving forward.

A chance to build around - dare we say it - a franchise quarterback.

"I think the great thing about Nick and what you love about [him], and it's the same thing we preach, is he knows he's never going to arrive," Kelly said yesterday. "I think it's a great trait to have. Some guys get to where they've won a job and now they kind of kick their feet up and they go on cruise control, and that's not him. I think he's continuing to improve on the little things. He's got, obviously, a very, very good understanding with what we're doing."

Predictably, little news was made during the media viewing of those organized team activities yesterday. Guys ran out for passes, guys took handoffs and pretended to run through tackle attempts that didn't exist. Nate Allen played with the first team; Earl Wolff played with the first team.

Watching Foles a year later, though, was enlightening, if only for the body language. He moved guys around with his hands. He barked. He clearly commanded a team that was, 12 months later, his to command.

And although he repeatedly answered quarterback-specific questions afterward with clich├ęs and team-first answers, a justified sense of ownership seeped in, just the same.

"It's a team game," he said at one point. "But the quarterback really has to be sharp and execute. I know that. That's why last year's stats don't mean anything. There's a lot of guys who have a good year and then it's tough the next year. I know that."

Said Kelly: "He needs to get better at footwork. Needs to get better at reads. Needs to get better at delivering the football on time, needs to get better at giving command. It's not a knock on him. It's every single guy out there . . .

"It doesn't matter if you're an outside linebacker or nose tackle, quarterback, whatever - everybody can constantly improve, coaching staff and everybody can do a better job in terms of preparing for things. That's the great thing about Nick. That's the same attitude he has."

To that end, last year's experience can only help. Base plays run in 2013 can have an added wrinkle or two in 2014. Familiarity breeds options.

"Last year at this time, we were trying to learn this offense," Foles said. "It was very vanilla. Every day was a learning curve and we had to redo the plays. Right now, we have a lot more stuff in and guys are more comfortable running what we have. And we're adding more. I think it's just more of a comfort zone. And it's allowed us to really go fast. And it's really helped the rookie learning curve, because we have the vets who can teach them what to do. And that's helped them a lot.

"Last year, the coaches were trying to figure us out. And we were trying to figure out them. This year, we have that relationship and we can continue to grow from there."

That's the hope. That last year was not a blip but a start, that someday the question isn't whether Chip Kelly is so good he made Nick Foles look great, but rather the other way around.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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