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INDIANAPOLIS -- If the door seemed to be slammed on Nick Foles when Michael Vick restructured his contract, it swung wide open Thursday after coach Chip Kelly insisted the competition at the team’s most important spot is far from decided.
In the first Scouting Combine podium interview of his NFL coaching career, Kelly not only reaffirmed that his impending quarterback jostle wouldn’t feature an early front-runner but also that Foles would be sticking around for the fight.
“I want to coach Nick and I want to get the chance to spend some time with him and see him,” Kelly said. “I’ve said it before. I was a big fan of his [at Arizona] -- the way he plays the game, his toughness, his ability to throw the ball very accurate. I want to hopefully get a chance to get him out on the practice field and see what he does.”
Foles, drafted last year in the third round, started six games after taking over for a concussed Michael Vick and won just one of of his six starts. But he also completed 61 percent of his passes and averaged 240 passing yards per game, which had never been done before by an NFL rookie quarterback.
But when Vick preserved his roster spot Feb. 11 by agreeing to a hefty pay cut, the general assumption was that Kelly preferred Vick’s athleticism and mobility for the offense he intends to run.
At the least, it seemed to indicate Kelly’s willingness to wipe Vick’s slate clean after two nightmarish seasons.
A report from USA Today then surfaced that former Eagles coach Andy Reid, who drafted Foles last year in the third round, would be interested in reuniting with his former quarterback in Kansas City.
That same day, CSNPhilly.com’s Reuben Frank reported that the Eagles weren’t shopping Foles and had no intention of trading him unless they were offered a deal too sweet to pass up.
"He's not available,” said Reid, who spoke at the Combine podium for the first time in his 15 seasons as an NFL head coach. “You just had Howie up here, so I think you know that. Listen, Nick is the property of the Philadelphia Eagles, so I think they like him. I drafted him along with Howie. Howie's still there, and I know Howie likes him."
Kelly, who said he was unaware of the USA Today report, didn’t rule out any transaction that would upgrade his roster but added this of Foles: “I want to coach him.”
Kelly and the rest of the staff are here this week to scout more than 300 college prospects and interview select prospects that they’re potentially targeting. The Eagles have the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft but the quarterback crop is weaker than past years and there aren’t indications that Kelly and Roseman would use a first- or second-round pick to upgrade the position.
Roseman backed up Kelly’s endorsement of Foles and the concept of an equal competition.
“[Kelly] told you the same thing he's told us. He wants to coach him, not just see him,” Roseman said. “This is a young, talented player who didn't even have a chance to play with all our frontline guys on the offensive line or skill-position players. He's a talented guy. We just drafted him last year.
“I think this is a different situation than we've had the past couple years where we had quarterbacks. We like the player, we like a lot of things about the player, he's a young player in the league and we're trying to accumulate good players. We're not in the business of trying to get rid of our good young players."
Kelly has watched every cut-up of Foles’ rookie season and observed some of the same strengths that he remembered from their Pacific 12 Conference clashes, when Foles led the Arizona offense against the Kelly-coached Oregon Ducks.
Foles never beat Oregon but passed for 398 yards, threw three touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his throws -- including a third-down conversion on a left-handed flip -- in his senior season.
“Nick’s tough, Nick’s very accurate. Really, [he] can get the ball to different places,” Kelly said. “I know we tried to present him with some different looks when I was at Oregon and trying to defend him and he always seemed to have an answer. He did a great job of putting the ball where I think it was supposed to be.
“When you watch the film, if we were going to be light somewhere in coverage, he seemed to find the spot where we were light in coverage. Just a guy that I’ve been impressed with. We -- and he’ll tell ya -- we hit the heck out of him, and he just kept coming.”
Once again, Kelly faced questions about whether Foles’ minimal foot speed and mobility would clash with the identity of the offense he intends to implement compared to the athletically superior Vick.
Once again, Kelly shot down theories that his Eagles offense would completely mirror the schemes he designed at Oregon or that he would force feed his playbook to a quarterback whose best assets weren’t suited for the blueprint.
“I’ve said that 1,000 times,” Kelly said. “When I was at the University of New Hampshire we threw it on every down because that kid (Ricky Santos) was really good. He threw 123 touchdowns and like 22 interceptions in a four-year span and he probably ran a 5.0 in the 40. So we catered to his strengths and I threw the ball more there than I did at Oregon.
“When I got to Oregon, when I got there I was fortunate that I had Dennis Dixon on our roster. That’s what I think any coach does. You go figure out what your personnel can do and you play to your strengths.”
Rules of the CBA have prevented Kelly from working on the practice field with any of his quarterbacks or sitting down with them in a film room to pore through tape or discuss future schemes.
The trick will be designing his offense around the quarterback who emerges as the best option, which sounds like the cart goes before the horse given the total contrast of skill sets among Foles, Vick, Dixon and Trent Edwards.
Only after he sees them compete on the field this spring will Kelly start to whittle down the playbook and begin to settle on one quarterback to lead his offense, which adds some extra flavor to this year’s minicamps and OTAs.
At training camp, there won’t be enough reps for all four to share the ball equally.
“But in April there is,” he said. “In May and June there is. And when you get through the preseason camp, it’s like anything else. As you start to get close to the season you cut those down and you start to make a decision on who your guys are going to be. But I think in April you’re silly not to look at everybody.”