Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Quarterback

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Quarterback

After 14 years under Andy Reid, you might say it’s been awhile since there was so much intrigue heading into an Eagles training camp. College football’s Chip Kelly is the head coach now, and for the first time in over a decade the team is a total mystery – which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

With rookies and selected veterans reporting to camp at the NovaCare Complex on July 22 – and the full squad due on July 25 – business is about to pick up, but there are still millions of questions left unanswered. We don’t have time for all of them, but we can take five *at each position* as we lead up to the most anticipated football season in Philly in nearly a decade. Up first, naturally, are the quarterbacks.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight EndOffensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Could Mike Vick make the team as a backup?

Absolutely. There seem to be some preconceived notions about how Vick would react to being named Nick Foles’ backup, the inference being the four-time Pro Bowler will automatically want out of Philadelphia the instant it looks like he could actually lose the Eagles’ starting quarterback competition. We can’t deny that is one of several distinct possibilities… although this thought process does require some serious jumping to conclusions.

For one thing, Vick has given no indication – none – that he would be a malcontent if relegated to the bench. He accepted the same news last season after he was cleared to return from his concussion. He restructured his contract knowing full well there was an open competition for the job. And those comments of his we parsed and dissected until they equated to demanding Chip Kelly name a starter ahead of training camp? 24 hours earlier, Vick sounded determined to contribute in 2013 no matter the outcome.

“Always going to be a leader on this team, regardless of what my place is,” Vick said.  “I am confident that I continue to be a guy that is looked up to on this team and continue to play my role.”

How exactly is it even beneficial for Vick to demand a trade or his outright release? Any team that is looking for a signal caller in August is typically screwed, and at 33 years of age, Vick’s next chance to start could conceivably be his last. Does he really want to quarterback some directionless franchise while trying to learn a new system and mesh with unfamiliar personnel, or would he prefer to bide his time in Philly, make the most of whatever action he sees, and handpick his next opportunity during the offseason?

It honestly might be more of a difficult decision for the Eagles if the organization is unwilling to pay Vick to languish on the bench. Then again, they already gave him a $3.5 million signing bonus, matching the $3.5 million in base salary on his one-year deal. Think of it as a deposit. With half down, the club might as well keep a veteran backup like Vick around, because if nothing else he provides the coaching staff another option besides the largely unproven Foles and completely unproven Matt Barkley.

Can Nick Foles develop into a franchise quarterback?

Sure, why not? People want to read too much into the Eagles’ moves at the position this offseason. Foles was supposed to be traded after Chip Kelly was hired as the head coach because he didn’t fit the magic system. Foles was supposed to yield to Vick’s superior athletic ability in what would surely be a skewed quarterback competition.  Foles was supposed to be collecting dust in some corner of the NovaCare Complex once Chip got his shiny new quarterback of the future, Matt Barkley.

The reality is Foles is still here, and very much entrenched in an open quarterback competition – one some reporters would argue he is winning. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s franchise-quarterback material, but Foles has yet to prove otherwise. The 24 year old progressed steadily week-by-week during his rookie season despite the absences of LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and 60 percent of the  starting offensive linemen – not to mention a defense that constantly put the Birds in the hole. And while it was only seven games, Foles demonstrated many of the skills we associate with elite passers: leadership, toughness, accuracy, a quick release, and excellent pocket presence.

Foles has the size, arm strength, and intelligence to make it in the NFL. The jury is out on whether he can put it all together and do the one thing that ultimately defines a quarterback – win. There is a chance though that with a healthy supporting cast Foles can become the foundation of the Philadelphia Eagles before our very eyes. Why not?

Will Matt Barkley be a factor in his rookie season?

My guess is no, assuming Vick is on the roster. Full disclaimer, I’m not as enthusiastic about Barkley as many fans or folks in the media, which we’ll delve into momentarily. First let’s consider what we know, and that is Chip Kelly’s “open” quarterback competition thus far has been almost exclusively between Vick and Foles.

It’s early yet, but the idea a rookie QB will go from seeing a fraction of the first-team reps during mini-camps and OTAs to playing in meaningful football games in the near future, while not impossible, seems a little farfetched no matter what Chip says about the depth chart (there is none). And unless either Vick or Foles is injured or really stinks up the joint during the preseason, it’s hard to envision when and how exactly Barkley can move up the ladder this summer.

Which is not to rule out Barkley seeing action in 2013. If things break down as the year progresses, he might be preparing for some starts by December, when the Eagles are well out of the playoff race and Vick and Foles have run their course. If injuries pile up, that could even speed up the process. Otherwise there is no reason Barkley needs to be on the fast track.

Listen, maybe the Eagles did steal the second coming of Tom Brady in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Barkley was a four-year starter at USC. They say he’s been groomed to play quarterback in the NFL his whole life. But even Brady spent a full season under Drew Bledsoe. At the end of the day, Barkley was a fourth-round pick, and the most successful fourth rounders of the last 25 years are Scott Mitchell, Aaron Brooks, David Garrard, and Kyle Orton. So, no, I do not think the kid is a factor right now.

Is Dennis Dixon even an option?

It would not appear so. Dixon was likely always headed for a role of third-string quarterback at best, but so far he’s been testing the limits of Chip’s “open” quarterback competition by not even showing up on the radar. Seriously, something called G.J. Kinne probably has about as much of a shot at making the 53-man roster as Dixon.

What is he doing here then? Having played under Coach Kelly for one year at Oregon, Dixon’s knowledge could have aided the other quarterbacks’ transitions to a foreign system.

Dixon actually may have been a first-round pick back in 2008 had he not suffered a torn ACL as a senior in college. He also performed reasonably well in four career NFL appearances. However, at age 28 and having spent last season on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, Dixon will only be an afterthought for any openings at quarterback – now and in the future.

Who will start the first preseason game?

Age before goofy. The very first concrete benchmark in Chip Kelly’s quarterback derby will be who is named starter for the Eagles’ August 9th showdown versus the New England Patriots – although don’t expect the announcement to mean a whole lot. As the veteran and a leader in the locker room, it would not be surprising at all if Vick were the de facto starter for the first preseason game ahead of Foles.

Chances are both Vick and Foles will get a couple of series with the first-string offense regardless, as this will be unlike any Week 1 preseason game we’ve seen this millennium. The last time there was any doubt over who would open the regular season under center for the Eagles was 1999. It’s almost profound to think about how much of an impact these glorified scrimmages will have on the competition. Jobs are always on the line in the preseason, but seldom at quarterback, and not in Philadelphia for a very long time.

Vick may start in August, but it’s all building toward a larger question: who will start come September? I don’t know, but one thing is for certain: the journey is going to be incredibly interesting.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.