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.

Doug Pederson: Jordan Hicks had hand 'procedure,' shouldn't miss any time

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Doug Pederson: Jordan Hicks had hand 'procedure,' shouldn't miss any time

A few days from the first full-team practice of training camp, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson revealed starting middle linebacker Jordan Hicks needed a "minor procedure" to fix his injured hand.

Although Pederson downplayed its significance.

“He injured his hand and he needed a minor procedure to fix that," Pederson said to the team website. "He shouldn’t miss any time. We’re going to keep on top of it and take it day by day with him. We may limit him a little bit, but he should be out there every day.”

In late June, CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank confirmed a PhillyVoice.com report about the injury. Hicks injured his hand getting out of a pool while on his honeymoon in Greece.

Hicks is obviously a very important piece of the Eagles' defense. He's the team's best linebacker and one of its biggest playmakers on that side of the ball. The more troubling thing is there isn't a ton of depth at LB. After the starters (Hicks, Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks), the unit is extremely inexperienced.

In addition to Hicks, Pederson also gave the Eagles' website several other updates on players.

• Ryan Mathews, while still on the roster, has been excused from the team to rehab elsewhere. That hasn't changed since the end of the spring workouts.

• Jordan Matthews might be limited during training camp after dealing with a knee injury in the spring. Matthews did travel with his fellow receivers to work out in North Dakota with Carson Wentz earlier this month.

• Jason Peters will be managed during training camp to keep him fresh. That's not a surprise considering the starting left tackle is 35 and managing his reps last year allowed him to stay healthy.

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

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Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

BOX SCORE

Though they still have the worst record in the majors by 3½ games, the 34-62 Phillies aren't playing like the worst team in baseball right now.

Not from an offensive standpoint, not from a starting pitching standpoint, not from a bullpen standpoint.

The Phils' offense stayed hot Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 win over the Brewers, their fourth win in five games and sixth in the last 10 (see Instant Replay).

Nick Williams homered again, Howie Kendrick had a very Howie Kendrick-like at-bat with the bases loaded, Jerad Eickhoff spun a quality start and the trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Luis Garcia sealed the win.

The Phillies have scored at least five runs in seven straight games, which is something none of their recent division-winning teams did in a single season. It's their longest such streak since May 31-June 7, 2005.

Their starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in six of the last eight games.

And the Phils' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

A lot of things are clicking right now for a team that probably can't play worse than it did in the first half. The Phils' record remains hideous, but there are actually four teams with worse run differentials: the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres.

"My first year here as a coach was '09, and in no way am I comparing ourselves to that team, but it was reminiscent the way we've been swinging the bats of us coming back and coming from behind and catching up and beating other teams," Pete Mackanin said. "It reminds me to a certain degree."

For much of the season, Mackanin has walked into the Phillies' media room after a loss and said that his hitters aren't living up to their standard. For much of the season, the Phillies have made quick outs and life easy for the opposing pitcher. 

But with Kendrick and Cesar Hernandez back from the DL, with Odubel Herrera hitting .331 since June 1, with Maikel Franco walking as much as he's struck out the last 35 games, and with Williams' power and energy rubbing off on the rest of the team, many different Phillies are playing like they have something to prove.

"Everybody is playing for a job next year," Mackanin said. "Everybody is playing to be part of our future and I think the guys are competing among themselves. It's good to see. Everybody's more aggressive. They're into the games."

The energy added by Williams' arrival on June 30 has been impossible to ignore, though it's kind of a chicken-or-egg thing. Is there added energy because he and so many other guys started hitting, or are they hitting because there's a more positive vibe in the clubhouse and dugout?

"I like to do whatever I can to start the momentum or get guys going," Williams said. "If I do something exciting, they're like, 'Oh, he's playing hard.' But everyone's been hitting and everyone's been just playing the game right and just doing all the little things and that's how we've been able to come out with some victories.

"In close spots with the hitting, we've been able to knock a lot of guys in. It's just that hitting's contagious. I always say when one guy does it, why can't the next? That's how I think of it."

The biggest spot in Sunday's game came with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning. With the game tied, the Brewers switched pitchers and Kendrick quickly found himself down 0-2 before singling up the middle to score two runs.

Kendrick has missed 60 games this season and it's been frustrating for him because he's been so locked-in when he's played. After picking up two more hits Sunday, he's up to .353 with an .873 OPS. His numbers are rarely sexy because he averages about 10 home runs per season, but a versatile, perennial .290 hitter has value. It's why the Phillies' offseason acquisition of Kendrick made sense and it's why he figures to have some trade value even though Sunday was just his 36th game of the year.

"Not only is he a good hitter but he plays solid defense out there," Mackanin said. "He doesn't have the greatest range but it's not bad. He's average to maybe a tick above average. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of interest in a lot of our guys, (Pat) Neshek, [Kendrick], even (Joaquin) Benoit, (Daniel) Nava. We'll wait and see."

The non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and general manager Matt Klentak expects there to be some movement. The Phils' two best trade chips are Kendrick and Neshek and both had productive weekends. Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 1.12. He's allowed runs in just two of 43 appearances.

And Kendrick has picked up right where he left off, going 4 for 10 since returning Friday from a hamstring strain.

"If I were scouting for another organization I'd recommend him," Mackanin said of Kendrick. "I'd put an acquire (label) on him."

We'll soon see what that acquire label nets the Phillies. The return won't be huge, but trading Kendrick will allow the Phils to add another young player with upside and open a spot back up for Aaron Altherr, who could return from the DL as early as Wednesday.