This time last year, G.J. Kinne was the Eagles’ fifth-team quarterback.
Not a promising place to be.
Kinne knew he was no more than a camp body. He was so low on the quarterback totem pole he even took reps on special teams.
Not a promising place to be at all.
Kinne was mired behind Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley and Dennis Dixon on the depth chart. He threw two passes in four preseason games.
He had zero chance to make the roster.
This year? Different situation, different quarterback hierarchy, different guy.
Don’t be stunned if Kinne, who threw for nearly 10,000 yards and ran for nearly 1,400 at Tulsa, makes a run at a roster spot this summer.
“Nick’s the guy, but I definitely feel like there’s open competition after that this year, and I love that,” Kinne said.
“Preseason is where I hopefully I can separate myself from the other guys. We have a lot of great quarterbacks, and I’m just trying to fit in somewhere and make some plays.”
Kinne, 25, was in Jets camp as a rookie, before stints in the UFL and Arena League, then spent training camp with the Eagles last year.
He was released on Aug. 30 but after Vick suffered his concussion, he rejoined the Eagles on the practice squad for the last nine weeks of the season.
Kinne is big enough at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds that he was recruited by Division I schools as a linebacker, he’s a talented enough runner that he led Tulsa in rushing as a senior, and he’s a capable enough passer that he had 81 touchdowns and 32 interceptions in three college seasons.
When you look at the Eagles’ quarterbacks, all that’s really set is that Foles is the starter.
Beyond that? Mark Sanchez will likely be No. 2 and Matt Barkley will likely be No. 3.
But nothing is certain, and Kinne feels that unlike last year, he has a realistic chance to climb that depth chart.
“I really do,” he said. “Last year, I was just trying to survive. We had Dennis here, I was the fifth guy, I was doing special teams stuff, it was my first training camp.”
Kinne admits that the change in quarterback coaches — from Bill Lazor to Bill Musgrave — has helped.
“This year, feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “Even the quarterback coach, hate to say this, but he’s involving me more in the meetings and [answering] questions, all that kind of stuff, so it feels really good.
“Just trying to make the most of the opportunity because they don’t come very often in this league.”
We could all see the difference in Kinne back in spring minicamps. He was delivering the football more accurately and with more authority.
Kinne has always been able to take off and run, but this offseason his understanding of the offense progressed to the point where he’s not running unless he has to.
At some point since the end of last year, he started to look like a legit NFL quarterback.
“He’s more settled down,” receiver Damaris Johnson, who was one of Kinne’s favorite targets at Tulsa and remains so with the Eagles, said.
“Coming in last year, he had a lot of things being thrown his way, like a lot of guys in their first year. He’s a lot more comfortable and it shows.
“I know what he can do, and everybody out here is starting to realize what he can do. I’m sure he’s surprising people who haven’t seen him play, because he’s gotten limited reps, but when he comes in he makes plays and he wows people.
“I’ve seen it for the last four or five years and now everybody’s seeing it.”
Kinne said he feels like a different guy in Year 2 under Kelly.
“Last year, I was just trying to learn all the plays and this year working on the craft within the plays, and it makes you feel a lot more comfortable,” he said.
“Instead of going 1-2 run, it’s 1-2-3-4 and getting through all my progressions, and I think that’s what Chip wants to see from me, going through all my progressions. Because he knows I can run, he knows I’ve got the athletic part, just being able to go through my progressions is big for me.”
Along with guys like Ty and Koy Detmer, Graham Harrell, Colt McCoy, Riley Dodge and Johnny Manziel, Kinne is one of the all-time great Texas high school quarterbacks.
He ranks fifth in Texas history with 11,762 career passing yards and fourth with 133 career touchdowns.
Eight years after he finished his high school career, he’s trying to establish an NFL career.
“Obviously, Nick’s the starter, but G.J. is a very, very dynamic player,” Riley Cooper said. “He’s very athletic, he knows the offense, he can run the offense, he has a very strong arm, he’s a very smart kid, makes great decisions. I’m excited to see him throughout the camp.
“Last year everything was so new. You have so many moving parts, especially as a quarterback, and you have to be able to react, and his decision-making is light years ahead of where it was last year.
“G.J. is gifted in all the physical aspects, but now his decision making is catching up to that, and he’s putting it all together and he looks great.”
Last year, it was a given that Vick, Foles and Barkley would make the team. Kelly said there was competition among the quarterbacks, but Kinne realistically didn’t have a shot.
He believes this year he does.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “I feel like besides Nick, it’s open competition. The reps might not indicate that, but don’t count the reps. Just make sure the ones you get count, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”