Chip and the Eagles: Quarterback Thunderdome

Mark Saltveit FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Top photo courtesy of Keith Allison and Matthew Straubmuller

I’ve been resisting the endless discussions about the Eagles’ quarterback competition, because as Chip Kelly has said, he simply won’t have the data to make a decision until he sees his players wearing pads and getting tackled.

It’s the same exact policy he used in Oregon.

In addition to training camp and the preseason games, which Kelly is sure to use for evaluation purposes, the coach has agreed to joint practices (i.e. scrimmages) with the New England Patriots before the teams play each other in the first preseason game Aug. 9.

That’s something he certainly couldn’t do on the collegiate level.

You might think this is an uncharacteristically revealing move from a guy who closed his Oregon Ducks practices even to hometown reporters, but Kelly has already acknowledged that that type of secrecy won’t fly in the NFL. Besides, the teams won’t play again this year unless they meet in the Super Bowl, a risk the coach is willing to take, and Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick already picked Kelly’s brain on no-huddle strategies last year in a private meeting.

More generally, this reflects Kelly’s confidence.

As he says, you’re not going to surprise anyone in the NFL. Buoyed by the relatively parity in talent, a big plus from the years when his Oregon teams faced larger linemen in every major game, Kelly is focused on execution, getting big players with the best nutrition, hydration and conditioning, and practicing them more thoroughly than opponents.

As I wrote in my new book “The Tao of Chip Kelly,” he has the courage to not be clever, and this humility will help in the NFL, where every coaching staff is overflowing with brilliant minds. If he can grab every possible advantage before the coaches’ schemes even enter the picture, Kelly’s odds of being successful will be that much better.

The courage to not be clever

The courage to not be clever

One immediate advantage will come from getting rid of the worst attitudes on the team.

One was Nnamdi Asomugha, the wildly under-performing cornerback. Another was backup running back Dion Lewis, who was quietly traded for a marginal linebacker almost as soon as Kelly arrived in Philadelphia. Now we have a sense of why.

Last week, the press reported that a friend of former Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez, now facing trial for murder, told police that Hernandez admitted shooting the fatal shots himself. According to CBS Sports, Lewis then tweeted, and quickly deleted, the following comment: “Aaron Hernandez homie snitched on him lol. #unrealfriends”.

Good riddance.

Another advantage will come in special teams. Andy Reid neglected his special teams units the way Kelly seemingly neglected his kicker position at Oregon, and the results were nearly as disastrous.

As Jimmy Kempski noted at his recently closed website “Blogging the Beast”, the Eagles only had one kick return longer than 33 yards in the last two years, and they fumbled that one away. Everyone who watched Kelly’s Ducks knows that will change this year.

So, what’s the story with the quarterbacks?

Well, Tommy Lawlor at Iggles Blitz has a couple of interesting columns. First, he holds out hope that the collegiate background of Kelly and much of his staff will bring some much-needed actual coaching to this talented, but attitudinal squad. The conventional wisdom holds that jaded pros can’t be taught much, and only fools try, at the risk of alienating these stars.

That may be true with some players, but they’re not likely to fit into Kelly’s program anyway, and the reality is that a lot of players go pro without much effective coaching. Running back Bryce Brown played 13 college games TOTAL at two different colleges, so there’s good reason to think his problems with fumbling and trying to bounce outside too much might be fixable. Even Michael Vick says he’s learning things from Kelly about how not to fumble; many are skeptical, but hey, it can’t hurt. At 32, Vick knows the sun is setting on his career, and he has every incentive to try whatever the coaches suggest.

Michael Vick -- still coachable?

Michael Vick — still coachable?

Which brings us to the second question. What happens if Vick doesn’t win the starting quarterback job?

Lawlor convincingly argues in his other relevant column that, if Matt Barkley somehow steals the job, Vick will be gone, and Nick Foles will stay as the No. 2. Hopefully the Eagles could trade him to a team with a pressing need in return for some future draft pick, or a stop gap at safety.

Barring that unlikely scenario, though, Vick will either start or be No. 2 to Foles. A number of pundits have argued that Vick won’t accept a backup role, but that theory has a lot of holes in it. Andrew Kulp at The 700 Level lays this all out. (No, the 700 Level is not a religious TV program; it’s a blog named after the infamous upper deck cheap seats at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.)

The most compelling argument is that Vick did accept a backup role last year. When he returned from his injury, which was a concussion, Reid kept Foles on as starting quarterback, and Vick voiced no complaint. Also, it makes no sense for Vick to pout or demand a trade. Given his age, turnovers and injury history, he will need every bit of goodwill going his way if he wants another team to take a chance on starting him at quarterback.

His odds are much better being a good soldier this year, ready to take over if Foles falters or goes down, than if he adds “fading prima donna” to the list of marks against him.

A willing backup?

A willing backup?

The Eagles would be much better off paying $3.5 million to keep him as a backup, too. Whatever potential Barkley might possess for the NFL, he’s not ready to take over as starting quarterback with a system radically different than what he ran at USC.

Furthermore, reporter Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer told me that he thinks Kelly might line up Vick as a halfback or TAZR. Imagine an play where the pitch option can run a 4.3 and throw a better deep ball than your quarterback!

Besides, who is to say Vick won’t win the starting job? A deep statistical analysis by the website British Eagles, yes, British fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, in case you were feeling far removed from Lincoln Financial Field, challenges the common notion that Vick held onto the ball too long compared to Foles.

Vick on average threw the ball 2.7 seconds after snap, if you count completions and incompletions combined.

Exactly the league average.

But Foles was slower, at three seconds even. And the difference came in incompletes.

Foles was actually a tenth of a second faster on completions, but he threw his incompletes after 3.2 seconds, vs. 2.6 for Vick. Foles was also just sacked faster on average, 3.2 seconds after snap, vs. Vick’s 3.7.

Vick unloading quickly

Vick unloading quickly

Now, all of these numbers are bad, especially given that Kelly has said he wants his quarterbacks to unload the ball within 1.5 seconds. Part of that was Philadelphia’s woeful offensive line last year, which should be remedied and then some. Both both quarterbacks worked with that same line.

There are a lot of interesting conclusions to be drawn from these numbers, but at the very least they call into question the idea that Vick won’t win the quarterback job over Foles because he can’t get the ball out in time.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The Eagles have had one kick return longer than 33 yards in the last two years, which was 44 yards, and they actually lost a fumble on that one decent return.” — Jimmy Kempski

Mark Saltveit’s book “The Tao of Chip Kelly” was the No. 2 football book on last week. You can find out more about it at


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