Much depends upon Foles

Posted: July 22, 2014

TEN YEARS AGO, the Eagles opened training camp at Lehigh with traffic jams, overburdened parking lots, and more than 6,000 fans spilling out of a few sets of bleachers, boisterously reacting to every snap.

It won't be like that when the 2014 Eagles first take the field Saturday at NovaCare. For one thing, the workout will be closed to the public. For another, there was no offseason addition anything like Terrell Owens, the catalyst of those 2004 hopes.

But for the first time since 2004, lots of Eagles fans sense a team on the rise, real hope for a championship. Back then, the team seemed poised to finally fulfill an overdue promise, after 3 years of losing in the NFC title game. This is just Year 2 under Chip Kelly. It comes with much less pent-up exasperation - Friday will mark the first time Nick Foles has reported to training camp as the starting quarterback, after all, and the core of the team is young. The point is, the rest of the NFC East is talking about how to match up with the Eagles, as it was a decade ago, and not so often since.

Yes, injuries could spoil everything, there's a tougher schedule, no DeSean Jackson, blah, blah blah.

Still. This really ought to be fun.

If the Foles we saw in 2013 is for real, who knows what the team's ceiling might be?

That really is the question - not what the rest of the league might have figured out from watching a season's worth of film of Kelly's offense, or how Jeremy Maclin and company are going to make up for losing Jackson, or whether the pass defense has improved. In the long run, when you talk about the Eagles winning a championship, it is all about their 25-year-old, 6-6, 243-pound, slow-footed but quick-witted QB.

He still has plenty of doubters, which isn't strange for a third-round pick whose Pro Bowl berth last year was granted on the basis of 10 starts. Some of these doubts seem reasonable - Pro Football Focus noted that Foles wasn't very effective throwing outside the numbers to his left, and that he lobbed more screen passes as a percentage of total throws than anyone else in the league, which helped boost his numbers - but some seem downright silly. Take, for example, Buzz Bissinger's profile of Foles, the cover story in this month's Philadelphia magazine.

Bissinger makes the valid point that if Foles is going to be a great QB, he'll have to become more comfortable talking about himself, will have to accept that ultimately he isn't just another one of the guys. But Bissinger seems to mistake Foles' God-and-team humility for timidity, which probably isn't an accurate reading.

Eagles beat reporters got a chance to sit down with Foles last month at NovaCare for an hour, the longest interaction with him for any of us since he arrived in 2012. The picture that emerged was not of someone hiding behind a mask of piety, or too straight and nerdy to command a huddle (should the Eagles ever huddle).

Foles said winning offensive MVP of the Pro Bowl "just doesn't feel like it's real," that he doesn't feel reflecting on accolades will get you anywhere.

"Where my comfort comes from is knowing my teammates and really just getting in the huddle - those are my buddies. I look in their eyes and I know them and they know me. And we've been on the field of battle," Foles said. "We've played. We've gone through practice. We've gone through workouts. So it's a sense of comfort of knowing that they know I'm gonna do everything I can to make this play work. And I know they're going to do anything they can to pick up the protection. The receivers are gonna do everything they can do to get the ball, the running backs . . . that's where the sense of comfort comes from."

Some observers have puzzled over how Kelly has made his concepts work so well with a quarterback who doesn't represent much of an option threat. Kelly often says the most important quarterbacking trait is decision-making. That seems to be the part where Foles, with that amazing 2013 line of 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions, really excels. He keeps the game simple, stays in the moment, doesn't overthink - things Kelly preaches. And Foles is very conscious that his teammates are watching him, how he handles himself in Kelly's sometimes chaotic, uptempo attack.

"It's always important to be decisive when you're a quarterback," Foles said. "You play fast. What I mean by that is, the guys are gonna look to the quarterback. What's the speed of the quarterback, what's his body language when you're running the offense? Is he sort of just walking up and doing whatever? Is he intense, yelling the calls, getting it? Because if they see your speed . . . your intensity . . . it's just human nature [to follow along]."

Foles was asked about his first experience as the Eagles' starter, those six games under Andy Reid as the team played out the string on a no-hope, 4-12 season.

"I believe you've got to play the game like you did when you were a kid," Foles said. "You've got to have fun when you're out there. If you overthink or you're stressed, it's very hard to play, so through that time, I learned to have fun, without worrying too much about what's at the end, just worried about that moment . . . Everybody looks at the quarterback. If I'm out there and I'm down and my head's down, or I'm like, 'Why are we doing this?' they're going to feel the same way."

Foles, who married former Arizona volleyball player Tori Moore in the offseason, said he and his wife really enjoy Philadelphia. As Bissinger chronicled, Foles comes from a privileged background, but there is no pretense or preppiness to him, maybe because before his father, Larry, made many millions of dollars in the restaurant business, he was a high school dropout who managed a Shoney's. Nick told a story about meeting a woman who'd worked for his dad in his first restaurant, her telling Nick how, if the dishwasher didn't show, Larry would jump in and wash the dishes. Nick recalled that as a youngster, "I'd run extra sprints because I knew what my parents had done for me to get there."

That would seem to be a mindset Philadelphia could relate to, even if Foles did grow up with money.

"I understand the people . . . I love that I can play here, because they do love the Eagles that much," Foles said. "When we go out there, I know when they're yelling from the stands, they're excited. That's genuine excitement. They're loving it. They're fired up. And when they boo, I know we'd better get this thing going, because they're going to keep booing until [we do] . . . I don't get upset about it - I embrace it. Because you go back to their mindset. A lot of them are hard-working people who spend a lot of their money buying tickets to go to the games.

"There's going to be times when they boo me, there's going to be times when they're going to say bad things about me. But I'm going to keep working. I love playing for this city. I love playing for this organization, because they are special people. They are the most passionate fans I've ever been around. With passion is going to come criticism. I understand that. I'm willing to work through it."

More Eagles: The hell that was Buddy Ryan's first training camp.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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