Foles' play answers the skeptics

Posted: August 22, 2014

THE STORY has hung in the air so long, it has lost some lift. Not until Nick Foles sloshes through an entire early regular-season game the way he started last night's exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will doubts about his pedigree again be pushed back into our manic stratosphere. And then only if it is preceded by another bad game and followed by another bad one will the debate about what exactly we saw last season again gain traction.

That hasn't happened this preseason, much to our collective relief. Foles followed a solid showing against New England last Friday with a big-play performance against Pittsburgh, completing 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards over two quarters of work, stepping away from pressure at times, targeting six receivers in the first two drives of the game, even showing off his athleticism with a spinning, misdirection pass to LeSean McCoy that resulted in a 22-yard touchdown, capping off an 11-play, 80-yard first-quarter touchdown drive.

And yet . . . In the press box before 2014's last meaningful preseason game, a 31-21 victory, the discussion about Foles' pedigree continued, albeit muted, filled with a coverall of conditions. The longer he holds the ball, the less effective he becomes was one critique, one he must improve upon if he is to be more than a one-hit wonder. At times, it appeared that he did.

He must also show that he can play through a bad day and still win the game, I heard from another respected eye, a nod clearly to last year's home game here against Dallas. And while a few bad throws to start against Pittsburgh was not exactly a bad day, the Foles who then piloted two first-half touchdown drives of 77 and 80 yards against a defense that is, at least historically, among the league's best was clearly the same guy who charmed the populace with electrifying games through the second half of last season.

And then there is that third theme, so acute in a town that debated Donovan McNabb's leadership qualities for nearly a decade, even as he set passing marks and was named to Pro Bowls. Acute, too, after a Philadelphia Magazine article published last month and penned by Buzz Bissinger suggested Foles could not succeed long-term because of a "one-dimensional choirboy caricature reflective of a player and a team and a league terrified of individuality."

Foles decined to speak to Bissinger for the piece, he said, because he wanted this summer's focus to not be on him but his team. It's a cliché from another era, that sentiment, but if we've learned nothing else about Foles so far, it is that most of his sentiments come from that era, and seem to come from the heart as well.

"Sometimes we look at a guy and we characterize his personality traits as being a leader or not a leader," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was saying this week. "It's not based on that . . . I've been around some great coaches who, when they really have something important to say, they lower their voices. So is it method? Is it personality trait? What is it? I think that's more of the issue. And I think the same can be said about the quarterback. If you're not a loud, boisterous guy, your leadership style shouldn't be that."

And yet some quarterbacks do exactly that, seem to get outside of themselves. "I know," said Shurmur. "And they do a little more than what they're supposed to. And it hurts them . . . You see sometimes guys who have a certain personality and somebody says they have to be a leader and all of a sudden they look very different than what they're supposed to be. And it hurts them. Because we spend way too much time together. And there's too much at stake."

If there has been a change in Foles, it is a natural one. Whether he's lofting a tape ball at someone as he exits into a training room or having a serious-looking, on-field conversation with one of the new faces injected into the Eagles' offense, he clearly exudes the confidence of a man who feels the team is his, even as he hates the phrasing.

"I've seen him exert himself more in a leadership role," said Shurmur said. "Sometimes that gets too talked about. But within his natural personality I've seen him extend himself, which is good. Nick is very genuine."

That's the civic prayer, anyway. That what we saw on the field last season, and for much of this preseason, is the genuine start of a Pro Bowl career, of a starter's career, of a career that, with the right players and right coaching, could include a championship sometime soon.

"I think being respected is more important than anything," Shurmur said. "I think there is a portion of Nick's personality and maybe in all of us in which it feels good to be liked. I think it's more important to be respected. And I think players respect players who are trying to get better every day. Trying to achieve greatness. Who are working on their craft and are helping the guys around them trying to do the same thing. That's really more of it."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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