Since Chip Kelly took the Eagles head coaching job, it’s been heavily debated: just what is he looking for in a quarterback? So we asked his quarterbacks coach, Bill Lazor, to name the main qualities they seek in a signal-caller.
“Accuracy and decision-making,” said Lazor without hesitation.
Later in the conversation, he was asked to assess Matt Barkley.
“From the moment he’s walked on the field here he has been accurate, and that’s the No. 1 thing. Accuracy and decision making. He’s been decisive and accurate,” he said. “I feel like the way we evaluated him so far — without having played a game — has proven to be true.”
It was interesting to hear Lazor discuss the rookie out of USC. He lauded all the quarterbacks. Talked about Michael Vick’s experience, willingness to learn and natural ability. Commended Nick Foles for his composure and capacity to process information quickly and accurately. But most of the questions were about Barkley. From his responses, it sounds like Lazor has pretty high expectations for the fourth-round pick.
“You’re talking about extremely high football intelligence,” he said. “A great work ethic.”
Lazor noted how Barkley took on the role of “face of the franchise” after NCAA sanctions were handed down at USC and helped navigate the program through some rough waters. Said that when he worked out Barkley privately prior to the draft, the QB proved extremely coachable.
“He understands football and understands technique enough that when you ask him to do something different, he could understand what you were asking and could do it. Some guys can’t do that; some guys are really good at what they do but can’t change.
“We talked about him being a natural when he walked onto the field. He can put it all together.”
Then the question came: does Barkley have what it takes to play right away?
Lazor paused a beat before delivering his answer.
“I’m confident Matt is going to play in this league. I’m trying to get a guy to be the championship-level guy,” said Lazor. “I think we are a long way from determining how quickly Matt will get to being a championship-level quarterback. So though everyone wants to know, ‘Who’s the starter? Where are we in the starting competition?’ my focus is so far beyond that. You can have a starter and win six games, no one is going to be happy. We need a guy who can take us where we want to go and bring a championship here. The expectations we’re setting in our room and the standard of excellence that we are trying to be achieve every day is well beyond, ‘Could this guy be a starter.’ ”
Does he see any of these quarterbacks having that championship ability?
“Absolutely,” Lazor replied, “but we don’t do it enough that it’s happened here yet.”
While Lazor seems to have a long-term plan with Barkley in mind, his opinion is that if a rookie QB proves to be the best option, then you play him.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been around plenty of rookie quarterbacks that got the nod. He was an assistant for Andy Reid when Donovan McNabb eventually took over as the starter in 1999; was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis when Sam Bradford was named Offensive Rookie Of the Year in 2010; went with Brandon Weeden last season when he was head coach of the Browns.
How do you know if a rookie QB is ready?
“You never totally know,” said Shurmur. “But just by watching them function in practice first, all your training sessions and then you get to see them in all your preseason games. And if they’re not a guy who starts in Week 1, there may be a reason why he’s in; the guy ahead of him maybe isn’t playing well. At some point they’re in there. You thought enough of them to draft them, you thought enough of him to put him in there, and it just happens.”
If Barkley is to see the field his rookie season, he is going to have to find a way to leap frog not just one, but two quarterbacks. Vick and Foles are splitting the first-team reps and competing for the starting gig. Barkley is third currently in the pecking order, even if there isn’t an official depth chart at the moment. But he’ll have plenty of opportunity between now and September to try and nudge further into the conversation.
“He’s getting more reps here then he would get, I’m pretty certain, in other places because of the way we structure our training sessions. That’s not an issue, and he’s doing a good job with the ones he’s getting,” said Shurmur. “Plus he comes in with a very solid foundation of how to play quarterback. And there’s something about what he did at college that’s really going to help him at this level. You don’t throw for over 10,000 yards and just get lucky a lot. That’s not the way it works.
“He’s done a lot of things he needs to do, and we’re just trying to get him up to speed with the way we do it.”
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