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 E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter.

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.