Five Thoughts On the Eagles’ QB Situation

During our sit-down with Chip Kelly last month, the most popular topic of conversation was the Eagles’ QB situation.

Here are five thoughts on the competition heading into training camp, after having listened to the new Eagles’ head coach.

1.  Kelly really does view this as a simple, straight-forward process. It goes like this:

  • Give all the quarterbacks a chance to compete during practice and in the preseason, maximizing reps.
  • Evaluate the film with the other coaches to track the competition.
  • Make a decision on the Week 1 starter based solely on who performs better during that time period.

As we mentioned yesterday, Year 1 is about building a culture. Kelly’s expectation is that by the end of the competition, one quarterback will have emerged, and the choice will be clear not only to the coaches, but to the other players on the team and the quarterbacks themselves.

“Everywhere I’ve been, it’s played itself out on the field,” Kelly said. “Does that mean it’s going to happen here? I don’t know. But I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had to make a decision and it’s like 50-50, pick it out of a hat. Somebody over the course of time has stepped up and has ‘won the battle.’ That’s what you’re hoping to have happen again here, and hopefully it’s evident to everybody, like, ‘There’s no question that it’s this guy because his game stepped up.’ ”

The competition is wide open. If Nick Foles outplays Michael Vick all summer, and Kelly gives the job to Vick, he’ll lose credibility with the rest of his players.

I’ve written consistently that it’s unlikely Matt Barkley wins the job, but the same goes for him. If he ends up outplaying both Vick and Foles, Kelly’s going to give him a shot. NFL coaches often preach the May the best man win message. Sometimes they mean it. Sometimes they don’t. With Kelly, for now at least, it appears to be the former.

2. There’s been plenty of talk about whether the Eagles would cut Vick rather than name him the backup. And frankly, I don’t see it. If Foles beats him out, the guess here is that Kelly reminds Vick it’s a long season, and more likely than not, his number will be called at some point.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that the guy who begins the season as the starter will finish the season as the starter.

“I reserve the right to change everything,” Kelly said. “The best players play. Just because you’re the starter, you still need to understand that it’s always on the line. It’s on the line every single day for you. So if I name Joe Jones the starting quarterback and his first 50 passes are interceptions, I’d better make sure I go to the No. 2 guy, right? Just because they were named the starter, that’s not it. What’s the next step? Just because you get drafted, you didn’t make the NFL. Now you’ve got to make the team. Now once you make the team, you’ve got to become a starter. Now when you become a starter, now what do you do? Now what’s the next step? You have to be successful.”

I think it’s unlikely that Vick would pout publicly or demand to be released if he lost out on the competition. Because of the timing, it’s not like he would be able to just latch on to another team and start. Remember, the Eagles gave him a $3.5 million signing bonus this offseason. If they were to cut him, that would be wasted money, and they’d have to figure out their backup QB situation. It seems more likely that Vick would stay on as the No. 2 guy, wait for his opportunity and figure out what’s next in the offseason.

3. Turnovers were an issue for both quarterbacks last season. On the surface, it appeared that Foles actually did a good job of taking care of the football. He only threw five interceptions in 265 attempts, or one every 53 passes, an impressive rate.

But Football Outsiders released its almanac yesterday (highly-recommended purchase, by the way), and they have a stat they call adjusted interceptions. The idea is to add in interceptions that were just flat-out dropped by defenders and remove irrelevant interceptions like ones that come on Hail Mary attempts at the end of halves.

The adjusted interception total for Foles was 11, or one every 24.1 attempts. Vick’s was only slightly better – 14 (adjusted) INTs in 351 attempts, or one every 25.1 attempts.

And then there’s fumbles. Foles had eight in 453 snaps, or one every 56.6 snaps. Football Outsiders blamed Vick for eight also (official stats had 11) in 667 snaps, or one every 83.4 snaps. The difference in the three Vick fumbles comes from the game charters, who apparently saw three instances where the fumbles were not his fault. They could have been bad snaps, a running back messing up the exchange, etc.

Again, both quarterbacks did a poor job of taking care of the football. And both were playing through difficult circumstances behind a terrible offensive line. But the numbers are closer than some might have you believe.

Of course, with Vick, there is more of a track record. He led the NFL with 11 fumbles in 2010 and was sixth in 2011 with 10. Foles was playing for the first time at the professional level.

Regardless of who the quarterback is, it’ll be fascinating to see how much of an effect Kelly’s coaching and scheme have on the turnovers in 2013.

4. I would be stunned if Kelly named a starter before Aug. 24. That’s the date of the third preseason game against the Jaguars. While practice performance will surely play a big role, Kelly seems convinced that his best chance to evaluate the QBs will be when they’re facing opposing teams and are at risk of potentially getting crushed.

Asked about balancing preseason playing time and injury risk, Kelly said, “That’s the big question. How much body of work can you give those guys? That’s the same thing we talked about from a practice standpoint with being physical. How much are we going to get enough to evaluate them but also mindful that we can’t get them injured either? There’s a delicate line there.

“We’re going to have to name a starter at some point in time. That’s why I think it would be unfair right now because there hasn’t been enough situations to evaluate. If someone said ‘Hey, we have to play a game tomorrow, we have to make a decision.’ But we don’t have to play a game tomorrow. We have until September 9, so we’ll see how it works itself out. But as I’ve said before with a big decision like that, you want to make sure you take the whole body of work into consideration. If in practice three they have a [bad] practice, do they come back in practice four and bounce back pretty good? Or have you made your decision after practice three? We’re not forced to make a decision soon, and I don’t think the positives of making an early decision outweigh making sure we make the right decision.”

5. Kelly has to be confident, but realistic, in terms of the impact he can have on the quarterbacks.

Asked if he’s able to look at a QBs’ mechanics and properly assess why they might be struggling with accuracy, Kelly said, “You can see that, but a lot of times by the time they get to this level, that’s the way they do it. You’re not gonna be able to change it, because they’ve thrown it that way for thousands and thousands of hours of throwing the ball, and that’s just how they throw it.”

But he also emphasized that there are fundamental aspects of the position that the coaches and quarterbacks can work on in practice.

During the offseason, the Eagles chose to bring Vick back, and by all accounts, they showed little or no interest in trading Foles. In the absence of a bona fide starter, it was a way of hedging their bets. Both decisions were based on skill sets, rather than past results. Kelly admitted that when watching film of 2012, he couldn’t draw too many results-based conclusions because he didn’t know what each quarterback was being asked to do by the coaches on any given play.

“When we evaluated it, we were looking at skill sets and do they have the arm velocity? Do they have the ability?” Kelly said. “But our evaluation has to be from when we got our hands on them on April 1 until we get here in August, just because I don’t know what they were taught.”

In addition to accuracy, the other key aspect in Kelly’s decision-making process will be which quarterback has the best understanding of the offense. By all accounts, this system is going to require adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on the look of the defense.

Asked how important those pre-snap reads are, Kelly said, “Huge. It depends on what you’re doing. It’s huge understanding what the defense is doing, conceptually what we’re trying to get accomplished. There are certain run plays we can run vs. any look, so the pre-snap read isn’t that important. But there are certain things – some in the run game and a lot in the pass game – where you need to understand what you’re going against.”

The media will be allowed to watch training camp practices, but clearly, a big chunk of the evaluation process will take place privately in the classroom.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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