Inside Voices: Sanchez To Matthews Once Again

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans

Jordan Matthews described meeting Mark Sanchez for the first time as his “Welcome to the NFL moment.”

“When I saw him I was like, ‘That’s Mark Sanchez.’ It was kind of weird to me,” he said. “But he came right up to me and was like, ‘Hey, what’s up Jordan?’ Cool as the other side of the pillow. It helped my transition a lot because it was like, OK, these guys aren’t that different from me.”

Paired together on the second team this summer, the two became fast friends on the field. Sanchez targeted Matthews so often it became a running joke among some members of the media:

“Guess who?”

Without looking, you knew it was Sanchez to Matthews.

“We’re both extremely competitive guys and it was the situation coming into camp and OTAs that the way the reps were set we were going to be in there a lot with each other, so we both made it a point to go out there and work hard,” said Matthews. “He noticed something in me so he gave me a lot of opportunities and I knew, OK, I’m coming in here and I have a quarterback that trusts me and I have to make the most of the opportunities.”

Not surprisingly, Sanchez’s first touchdown pass in an Eagles’ uniform went to No. 81. Shortly after hitting Jeremy Maclin for the 52-yarder on his first snap of the game, Sanchez feathered a pass to Matthews in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard score. He targeted the rookie three times in his debut, connecting twice for 35 yards and a TD.

“He’s just got a knack for finding the open zone in coverage, and if it’s man-to-man he is so competitive he wants to win every time. With that kind of drive and that kind of talent he has, that’s when you get a real special player,” said Sanchez. “He’s still developing, he’s still learning a ton and he’s getting to do that while he’s playing. It’s been good to watch. And it was cool to throw my first touchdown to him. That was pretty exciting.”

Through eight games, Matthews has 32 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He’s on pace for 64 catches, which would rank second among Eagles rookies all-time behind only Keith Jackson.

“I still don’t feel like I’ve touched the surface of how good I can be in this offense and how good I can be in the slot,” said Matthews. “I appreciate Coach Kelly for the opportunity that he gave me, this is a great opportunity and I’m definitely going to make the most of it. When I look back on film from the first eight games, I’m like, ‘I don’t know who that guy was.’ These next eight games are going to be a lot better than that.”

We’ll see if getting reunited with his training camp QB helps in that effort.

Barkley To Backup

To borrow Chip Kelly‘s phrase, Matt Barkley is just a chin-strap away from becoming the Eagles’ quarterback. That’s not a particularly comforting thought for many Philly fans given how things went during his short time on the field last year.

Barkley, though, believes he is in a much better place as a signal-caller than he was a year ago. For one, he is healthier. As questions about his arm strength swirled, the USC product suggested at the time that the separated shoulder he suffered his senior year wasn’t an issue. But it was.

“It was hurting, hurting quite a bit,” he said, “affecting my ability to come over the top so I had to adjust everything to the side and I wasn’t getting power on the ball, enough velocity as I should have.

“I was taught at a young age from my coaches to take the blame. As a quarterback the responsibility of the team is on your back and never blame anyone else, including an excuse or something that might hinder you.”

Barkley has regained his strength, he says, and is hitting personal highs in the weight room and from a conditioning standpoint. Mentally, he feels that he has a good grasp of the system.

“I’m comfortable enough to where I have no doubts to where the ball is going on plays or what my reads are,” he said. “Your senses are heightened a bit knowing that you are one snap away. I think my job is to support Mark and support this team by being mentally ready and physically prepared to go in a moment’s notice, which I think I am.

“As a man and as a football player you want to be challenged and you want to push yourself and your abilities and it’s kind of hard to do that when you’re third string not getting any reps. It’s not the spotlight you want to be in, it’s not records, you want to be challenged and you want to be pushed. It’s fun to be in that position again.”

Kelce On Quarterbacks 

Continuity at quarterback is typically a key ingredient in a winning formula. Last season, though,  the starts were divided between Nick Foles and Michael Vick, 10-6 — and yet the Eagles went 10-6. This season, it’s possible the starts will be split 8-8 between Foles and Sanchez. The hope is that, like last year, the change at quarterback won’t slow them down. According to Jason Kelce, the way the Eagles train gives them a better chance than most to overcome losing their starter.

“It can derail the season for most teams,” said Kelce. “I attribute it just to the way we practice. I think it’s over and over repetitions, understanding situations, the game plans, the route concepts. The more they physically get to do that, the more prepared they are to do it in a game situation.”

Kelly has mentioned on several occasions that the additional reps his reserves get during practice is a big part of developing quality depth. The belief is that it can be a benefit at the QB spot as well.

“We don’t look at it as a backup. We look at it as a starter,” said Kelly. “We’re looking for people to be starters because that better be your mindset going into it, because you are literally a play away from being a starter.”