The dynamics have shifted a good deal in the short time Matt Barkley has been a member of the Eagles.
When he was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the quarterback position was still up for grabs. There was Nick Foles and there was Michael Vick and there were questions about both. At that time Chip Kelly‘s depth chart was written in sand and with that came possibility, especially for a signal-caller that the head coach hand-picked.
That depth chart at quarterback has hardened considerably since, at least at the top. Foles established himself as the QB of the present and is a quality season away from securing the gig for the foreseeable future. Barkley, meanwhile, still hasn’t worked himself into the primary backup role yet. Heading into these preseason games, that job belongs to Mark Sanchez.
Barkley is still young in this league but has seen enough to know that things rarely go as envisioned in this sport. The first time that hit home in a big way was when Pete Carroll left USC for Seattle after his sophomore season.
“I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t supposed to happen.’ My plan was to play for him and then he just took off out of the blue,” said Barkley. “That was kind of a young rude awakening to the business of football.”
His senior year didn’t go as planned, either. Not by a longshot. He returned to play for a USC team that had championship aspirations. When the season ended, the Trojans were 7-6 and Barkley had a separated shoulder. Both things appeared to hurt his draft stock.
At present, he’s in a situation — partly because of circumstance, partly because of performance — where he is behind a pair of quarterbacks, one of whom may be franchise-caliber. There is no clear way to the top.
“I don’t know what [the path] is yet. We’ll see in a couple years what it is,” said Barkley. “But obviously I do want to be a starting quarterback and play in the NFL. I definitely think I have learned a whole lot here and hope to learn a lot more. I don’t know what the future will hold but I’m excited for whatever it brings.”
Friday night in Chicago presents an opportunity to bolster his resume. The starters are expected to play just a couple series, so there should be ample time for he and Sanchez (and perhaps G.J. Kinne) to get in some quality snaps in a game setting.
“I figure every chance you get to be on the field in front of an audience is a tryout of sorts, whether it’s for your own team, your own self or for another team, you have to prove that you’re capable of playing in the NFL,” said Barkley. “I’m not going to be thinking of it as a test while it’s happening — I’m just going to be playing, having fun — but when it comes down to it that’s what is going on.”
Barkley did not fare well in his opportunities last season. Injuries forced him into action against the Giants and Cowboys in back-to-back weeks in October. He went 28-for-46 for 287 yards with zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
The 23-year-old has looked improved during camp this summer, both in terms of arm strength and command of the offense.
“I think just speed with the offense. Getting the plays called quicker, getting the ball snapped quicker I think has been improved. But also just speed once the ball is snapped within the progressions and knowing where the ball should be in a timely fashion,” he said. “Chip wants the ball to get in a playmaker’s hands as quickly as possible, and the right guy’s hands. There are five guys available on nearly every play so to make use of all those guys, and I think I’ve done a better job of that.”
It is likely that Barkley will spend the bulk of the season on the sidelines once again. And if things remain the way they are now, he probably won’t even be active on game day. That makes these next four games pretty important as he tries to position himself for the future.
“There are so many things that you don’t have control of in this league, so I feel if you can just worry about how your passes are, how your mindset is going into a game, how your preparation is and just knowing your responsibilities and your reads, then everything will take care of itself,” he said. “You don’t know who is watching you on any given day, you don’t know who is talking behind closed doors or what not. As long as I’m putting my best foot forward and showing them what I’m capable of, it will take care of itself.”