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.

Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win

053116-pgp-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_696384067601.jpg

Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win

CHICAGO -- Scott Kazmir and two relievers combined on a one-hitter, matching zeros with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta before the Los Angeles Dodgers got to Chicago's bullpen for a 5-0 victory Tuesday night.

Arrieta went seven scoreless innings, but was denied his 21st consecutive victory. The Cubs had won in Arrieta's last 23 starts.

Cubs left-hander Clayton Richard (0-1) gave up three straight singles to lefties in the eighth, the last Adrian Gonzalez's liner to left that scored Chase Utley and ended the Dodgers' 16-inning scoreless streak.

Corey Seager hit a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill in the ninth.

Joe Blanton (3-2) struck out three in two perfect innings as the Dodgers snapped the Cubs' six-game winning streak.

Kazmir allowed a single and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. Adam Liberatore struck out one in a perfect ninth (see full recap).

Betts hits trio of homers in Red Sox win
BALTIMORE -- Mookie Betts hit a career-high three homers and drove in five runs, and the Boston Red Sox cruised past the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 on Tuesday night to open a three-game lead in the AL East.

Betts led off the game with a shot to center and added a three-run drive to left in the second inning. After lining out to second base in the fourth, Betts hit a bases-empty homer to right in the seventh.

Batting in the ninth inning with a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, Betts grounded out to second against rookie Ashur Tolliver.

Still, he's the first Boston player to hit three homers in a game since Will Middlebrooks against Toronto on April 7, 2013. Betts' 12 home runs rank second on the team behind David Ortiz, who has 14.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts stretched his career-best hitting streak to 24 games with a single in the seventh inning (see full recap).

Rockies tie franchise record with 7 HRs
DENVER -- Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon each hit two of Colorado's team record-tying seven homers, powering the Rockies to a 17-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

Blackmon became the first player in Rockies history to hit leadoff homers in back-to-back games and added his first career grand slam in the seventh. Carlos Gonzalez homered for a fourth straight game, while DJ LeMahieu and Gerardo Parra also went deep.

It was the first time Colorado hit seven homers at Coors Field. The team also had seven on April 5, 1997, in Montreal.

Rockies right-hander Jon Gray (3-2) allowed three runs in six solid innings.

Jon Moscot (0-3) was hit hard in his return from the disabled list. He surrendered seven runs and four homers in two innings. Moscot also was grazed in the right ear in the third while bunting. Moscot stayed down for a moment before taking his base (see full recap).

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

053116-mackanin-webrefframe_1.jpg

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

BOX SCORE

The gap in talent level that exists between the Phillies and some of the top teams in the majors has really been evident over the last eight games.
 
The Phillies have lost seven of those eight games to the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals. Tuesday night brought the latest defeat, a 5-1 loss to the National League East-leading Nats at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). The Nats have won the first two games of the series and go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
 
While losing seven of their last eight, the Phillies have seen their feel-good story turn to dust. Their record has gone from 25-19 to 26-26 and their deficit in the NL East from two games to 5½.
 
“We had a good month and a half,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “When things are going good, they snowball. When things are going bad, they snowball. We’ve got to keep that snowball from rolling. We’ve got to get out of it.”
 
There are a number of reasons the Phillies have hit hard times. Poor offense is a big one. They have been held to two or fewer runs five times in their last seven losses and 20 times for the season. They are now averaging 3.15 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors. Offense like that is the reason why Aaron Nola can pitch six innings of two-run ball and lose on two mistake pitches as he did Tuesday night. These pitchers have no margin for error.
 
One of the offensive’s big shortcomings is the lack of power. The Phils have been out-homered 15-7 in the last eight games. Washington hit four longballs on Tuesday night; the Phillies hit none. In fact, the Phillies had just four hits – period.
 
“We’re just getting out-homered every night,” Mackanin said. “We’re not hitting home runs. I feel like it’s a broken record. We’re not hitting.”
 
For the season, the Phillies have 39 homers. Only Atlanta has hit fewer.
 
And it doesn’t appear as if things are going to get all that much better any time soon. Management would consider trading for a bat close to the July trading deadline – if the team is in the race. With reality striking hard lately, it’s tough to see this team being in the race for anything but a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. In the short term, the Phils could soon have Cody Asche back on the roster.
 
“Our pitching overall has been very good,” Mackanin said. “We’ve just got to hit.”
 
The Nationals won this game with power and good starting pitching.
 
Right-hander Joe Ross held the Phils to a run over seven innings – an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez.
 
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth capitalized on a poorly located fastball by Nola and homered two batters into the game. Daniel Murphy got Nola in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.
 
Nola would like to have had both pitches back.
 
“The pitch to Werth was right down the chute,” he said. “With Murphy, I wanted to get it in a little further and I didn’t.”
 
Other than that, Nola was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble in the second inning and was supported by a double play started nicely at second by Hernandez and a nice catch by Odubel Herrera in center field.
 
“We’re doing some things right but not enough of them,” Mackanin said.
 
“That’s baseball,” Nola said of the lack of run support. “Sometimes we pitch bad and get a lot of run support. The guys are battling. I feel like we’re going to bounce back the next couple of games.”
 
The Nationals blew the game open with three runs in the ninth against reliever Colton Murray. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
The two home runs deprived Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon a chance at a save as he recorded the final three outs against his old team.

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

053116-sound-webrefframe_1.jpg

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
 
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
 
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
 
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
  
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
 
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
 
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
 
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
 
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
 
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
 
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).