How does Eagles' Foles near perfection?

Nick Foles has pretty much been under the radar this summer. That's about to change.
Nick Foles has pretty much been under the radar this summer. That's about to change. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: September 01, 2014

When the Eagles' exhibition season came to a weary close Thursday night, it closed, as NFL exhibition seasons always do, with the starters on the sideline, each nearly invisible beneath his ball cap, each counting the days until preparation gives way to participation.

Nick Foles stood watching with the others Thursday, sometimes looking at a play chart, sometimes offering advice, but mostly waiting to see what his first season as a starting quarterback might have in store.

Foles has been allowed to prepare in peace for the most part. In a training camp and preseason absent any drama, controversy, or even humor, the Eagles' stealth quarterback fit right in. He strives for bland efficiency in the games, no wasted motion, and his off-field face is much the same. If public personas were ice cream, Nick's would be vanilla, and none of those bean flecks, either.

In fact, much more attention has been given to backup Mark Sanchez, who was a subject of curiosity and, upon playing well, became the subject of trade rumors. If you like your quarterbacks dashing and quotable, Sanchez is the guy. Of course, if you like 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, Foles has the edge there.

"I feel like we improved every week as a unit and as a team," Foles said of the path taken toward next Sunday's opener against Jacksonville. "We just have to keep moving forward."

The problem for Foles will be figuring out a way to move forward from last season's gaudy numbers. If those remarkable results - which included a league-leading 119.2 quarterback rating - are the standard by which Foles will be judged, he's facing an eventual setback. If winning eight out of every 10 starts, which he did last season, is the annual expectation, then anything less than 13 wins a season would be a disappointment.

Foles is about as likely to acknowledge the expectations as he is to stand on a stool in the middle of the locker room and deliver something from Macbeth, although he did mention only fools being guided by yesterday.

"Those numbers from last year won't do anything for me this year," Foles said. "They do absolutely nothing. I had a great coach once tell me that one play won't affect the next play, good or bad. And that's the same thing for one season. You can't let one season affect you, good or bad."

If the 2013 regular season - when he lost the competition to be the starter, replaced an injured Michael Vick, suffered a concussion, returned to throw seven touchdowns in his next start, and finished with seven wins in the last eight games - didn't affect him, then Foles might actually be as even-keeled as he seems.

"I'm looking for him to improve on everything," coach Chip Kelly said. "His footwork, his timing, his understanding of where the ball is supposed to go, [his] ability to check protections, check the run game. He had an outstanding season last year, and everybody is excited about him, but he knows as an individual he can still get better."

Foles has glided quietly into the new season. Even the few ripples that did appear on the surface flattened quickly. He was the subject of a recent cover story in Philadelphia Magazine that, if not entirely unflattering, wasn't entirely complimentary, either. Does Nick Foles, a child of privilege and an emotional flatliner, have the drive and demeanor to be an elite NFL quarterback, that most alpha of dogs in a pack of nothing but alpha dogs?

The answer is unknown, but the question is out there. Maybe a little gratuitous, but on the table now. Foles just shrugged it off. People are entitled to their opinion. Can't pay attention to outside stuff. Can only work hard to be the best he can. Something like that.

He became briefly visible during the first exhibition game, when he threw two interceptions, but tamped down the predictable unease that followed with strong performances in the next two games. Move along. Nothing to see here. Go worry about the kicker.

"I just stayed focused and didn't freak out," Foles said. "I just kept working."

What would a Nick Foles freakout be like? Would he clap a hand to his forehead? Tug at his chin strap?

We will probably never know, because Foles isn't wired that way. He just keeps working, and, now that the real games are upon us, the real question is, how does he manage to improve on unexpected greatness?

We do know that spectacular success didn't change Foles. All that remains to be seen is whether something less, even in understandable measure, has any different effect.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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