Barkley to start Eagles' last preseason game; Foles, Sanchez to sit

The Eagles' Matt Barkley hands off to Damaris Johnson earlier this preseason. Thursday will be Barkley's first start for the Birds.
The Eagles' Matt Barkley hands off to Damaris Johnson earlier this preseason. Thursday will be Barkley's first start for the Birds. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2014

Matt Barkley will finally start for the Eagles.

It will be the fourth preseason game, and he'll be surrounded by second-team players, but the former Southern California standout will start at quarterback for the first time since the Eagles made him an unexpected selection in the 2013 draft.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly announced Saturday that he will keep No. 1 quarterback Nick Foles and backup Mark Sanchez sidelined in Thursday's preseason finale against the New York Jets, creating the opportunity for Barkley.

Foles is beginning his preparations for the Week 1 game against Jacksonville. Kelly said he has seen enough of Sanchez to feel secure in the former Jet as the No. 2. There is still much to learn about Barkley, which is why the 23-year-old will receive significant playing time on Thursday.

"I think it's a big opportunity, like this whole preseason has been," Barkley said. "I'm not thinking much bigger of it than I should. I've been a starter before. I know how to prepare for a game week like this. It's exciting to get back into a feeling of knowing you're a starter going into a game week. But it's nothing too big for me."

Barkley started all four years at California prep powerhouse Mater Dei before starting for four seasons at USC. After the Eagles drafted him into an unsettled quarterback situation in 2013, Barkley never gained traction in the quarterback competition between Foles and Michael Vick.

Barkley was recovering from a shoulder injury when he arrived in Philadelphia, and that affected his arm strength. He completed only 50.8 percent of his passes last preseason while throwing one touchdown and one interception. He finished the preseason with a quarterback rating of 63.5.

This summer has been better. Barkley is completing 62.5 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 80.5, superior to any of his games - preseason or regular season - last year.

"I think I've made a lot of big strides since last year at this time - health wise, my knowledge of the offense, just my [comfort] with the receivers we've had," Barkley said.

Most of Barkley's regular-season playing time came in two games when Foles and Vick suffered injuries. Barkley threw four interceptions and lost one fumble.

"[The fans'] only glimpse of me has not been the best situation, not the best showing from me," Barkley said. "And even my college days, I didn't expect that they watched my college games because of the time difference. I'm excited to show our fans what I'm capable of and my arm, moving the ball down the field. I've been really pleased this camp with the way the offense has moved the ball down the field when I've been in."

Barkley's lack of production last year compelled the Eagles to seek an experienced backup quarterback. When Sanchez signed, the idea was to have Barkley compete with him for the No. 2 job. Sanchez has held on to that role, and Kelly did not feel the need to give Sanchez snaps against his old team.

"We need to see Matt play a lot," Kelly said. "We want to see Matt play for an extended period of time. . . . I think he's done a really nice job. But we kind of thought about it as a staff. I think Mark is 25 of 31 and has led us on a lot of scoring drives. We feel very comfortable with our 1 and 2 quarterbacks."

Unless Barkley performs well enough that another team tries trading for him or struggles to the point that the Eagles consider keeping G.J. Kinne over him, Barkley is set to be the Eagles' No. 3 quarterback again this season.

Thursday's game will serve as an important milestone in his development in Philadelphia.

"I'm not trying to do too much or be over the top," Barkley said. "Be precise, be accurate, get rid of the ball in time, and when it boils down to it, hopefully big plays will come when you stick to being methodical with the process."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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