Chip Kelly is in an interesting position as he begins his NFL coaching career with the Philadelphia Eagles. The team he is taking over had been considered a ‘dream team’ during training camp the past few seasons, only to prove to be a more of a nightmare by the year’s end. The Eagles are now going into the year relatively unheralded by their standards coming off of a 4-12 2012. On top of expectations of an immediate turnaround from the fan base, Chip Kelly has one heck of a quarterback dilemma on his hands.
The Eagles have three quarterbacks on their roster who will be vying for the starting role come training camp. Incumbent Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and rookie Matt Barkley will all put their skills on display in hopes of leading the Eagles to glory come opening day.
Michael Vick will enter training camp as the favorite to win the starting gig. The veteran still has the speed that made him a star early in his career, and proved it this off season by beating running back LeSean McCoy in a footrace. Vick is a strong deep ball thrower with an eye for making the big play.
Problems facing the Vick candidacy for Eagles starting passer are his inability to avoid injury or the turnover, as well as his inaccuracy on short and intermediate passes. Vick has fumbled 35 times since 2010, by far the leader in that category. He also still shows rookie-like lapses in decision making, perhaps due to not being able to properly read a defense.
Nick Foles is just in his second year, and took the league by storm with the skill set he demonstrated in six starts at the end of last season. In those starts he was just one yard shy of 1,700, threw for six touchdowns and five interceptions. Not Earth-shattering numbers by any means, however as a rookie forced into leading a team that basically had packed in for the second half of the season (they went 1-9 to end the year) he provided a rare bright spot.
Foles has a far more accurate arm than Vick, and also displayed superior footwork and fundamentals. Some have also given him credit for having a stronger arm than Vick, whether or not that is true is up for debate. Regardless of who you think has the stronger arm, being mentioned in that discussion means that Foles has plenty of arm strength to capitalize on any shots down field Kelly dials up.
If Foles is to come out of training camp as the quarterback Kelly picks to lead the Eagles after he solves his dilemma, he will need to show a better ability to pick up the blitz and recognize coverages. He seemed not to be phased by the speed of the game like many rookies are last year, however he will need to slow the game down even further and better recognize what opponents are doing if he wants to be a full time starter this year.
Matt Barkley is the dark horse in this battle. As a fourth round draft pick this year, the rookie is probably being overlooked as a legitimate candidate in many circles. Don’t count him out. As a four year starter at USC, he has all the pro-style experience you could ask for in a young quarterback. His football IQ is off the charts, and just a year ago he was being touted as a potential number one overall pick in this years draft.
Barkley ran a similar offense to the west coast style the Eagles and Chip Kelly will likely employ this season, giving him an advantage on the field in terms of adjustments at the line of scrimmage and line audibles. He excels at completing short to intermediate passes such as slants, seems, and sticks, all staples of the offense the Eagles will run this year. Spreading the football around is one of the most alluring aspects of Matt Barkley’s game, preventing the defense from keying on any one target.
Arm strength is the biggest negative he has to overcome. Paired with his lacking the athleticism typically attributed to a Chip Kelly quarterback and you have a major hurdle for the rookie heading into camp. If he wins the battle and proves he is the best quarterback the Eagles have on their roster, Kelly will have a new dilemma of how to create a new offense where the quarterback is merely a distributor of the ball and not a play maker on his own.
If Chip Kelly can successfully solve his dilemma and put the right quarterback on the field, the Eagles stand a great chance to compete in an NFC East that appears to be wide open on paper. If he picks the wrong option however, we are likely to see the team rotate quarterbacks throughout the year until they get it right, stumbling through a quarterback controversy plagued season. The stakes are high when he makes his decision, and the Eagles fans don’t have a reputation for being forgiving of mistakes.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express