They’re not worried about it. They’re not thinking about it. That’s what Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne said about competing for the Eagles' third quarterback spot. They’re either really good at ignoring the attendant distractions and drama of trying to win a job, or they weren’t being entirely candid. The guess here is the latter.
If we’re handicapping the race, it should still be Barkley’s to win. Should be. Barkley has been a high-profile quarterback since high school, where he was a star for Mater Dei, one of the most revered prep programs in the country. He was widely recruited and his decision to attend USC only increased the hype. If he entered the NFL draft in 2012, he might have been a first-round pick. Instead, he was taken by the Eagles in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He came to Philly with a history and a recognizable name and expectations.
Kinne is sort of the anti-Barkley. At Tulsa -- did you know he went to Tulsa? -- he threw for nearly 10,000 yards and rushed for close to 1,400 more. Hardly anyone outside of Oklahoma noticed. He went to Jets camp as a rookie. He didn’t stick. He made appearances in the UFL and the Arena League. Last year, he was with the Eagles for training camp -- as the fifth quarterback behind Nick Foles, Michael Vick, Dennis Dixon and, yes, Barkley. At one point, he was returning kicks on special teams. That’s not the kind of opportunity generally given to quarterbacks who factor into the team’s plans.
Barkley is 23. Kinne is 25. Given their pedigrees and what the organization has invested in each of them respectively, it should be Barkley’s job to win. Should be. But with each practice, you wonder whether Kinne has a shot -- even a small one -- to unseat Barkley and make the roster.
“It all depends on what goes on with the rest of camp,” Chip Kelly said about the third-string quarterback competition. “And the other thing we don’t know is injuries. We’ve got to have a couple of quarterbacks in there.”
They had a couple of quarterbacks in Chicago for the team’s first preseason game. They had all four, actually. It didn’t go well for Nick Foles, who threw two interceptions. Ah well. He’s still the starter. Forget it and move on. It went better for Mark Sanchez, who completed 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards. Barring an injury or something unforeseen, he’ll serve as Foles’ backup this year.
Then there was Barkley. And then there was Kinne.
Barkley -- who had a shoulder injury coming out of college that contributed to his drop in the draft -- is fully healthy now. Against the Bears, he went 7 for 16 for 73 yards and a touchdown. That was good. He also threw an interception right after the Eagles’ forced a turnover. That was not so good.
“Matt goes in and has a 13-play drive, over 90 yards and we go down and score a touchdown and we’re throwing the ball on time,” Kelly said. “But then he makes some mistakes. We go out after our special teams created a positive play in recovering a fumble and we’re on the 37-yard line and we go out the first play and throw a pick. It’s about understanding taking what the defense gives you. In that situation, you can’t get greedy. You don’t have to make it happen. Let’s play the next snap and move on; we’re in positive territory.”
A year ago, Barkley played in three games. He went 30 for 49 for 300 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. He also had three fumbles. The turnovers were concerning. Part of it was owed to him being thrust into bad situations in games where the Eagles were behind and he was forced to throw into defenses that knew the Birds needed to catch up. But part of it, as Kelly said, was the tendency for backup quarterbacks to try to make big plays when they aren’t there. Barkley made better decisions against the Bears, though that one interception stood out as a mistake.
“On paper, there were too many incompletions for my liking, but some of those were throw-aways and some of those were just different circumstances,” Barkley said. “I feel like I didn’t make a whole lot of bad decisions, which I was happy about. I feel like I had good timing and got the ball out when I needed to.”
Like Barkley, Kinne has also tried to take the check downs when the defense gives them. But even more than Barkley, Kinne has a fondness for taking deep shots down the field. During training camp, it feels like he’s launched at least one ill-advised ball into unfavorable coverages each practice. Kelly has called Kinne “the classic gunslinger.” It’s mostly a compliment (with a slight pejorative undertone).
“For sure,” Kinne said. “As a backup quarterback sometimes, you want to go in there and make a play all the time. But you have to go through your progressions and sometimes it’s OK to take the three-yard route. You don’t always have to hit the home run.”
And yet Kinne has made enough plays during camp to make you wonder how close the competition really is. Barkley, meanwhile, has looked better than he did a year ago, but he hasn’t improved so greatly that it would be unthinkable for Kinne to beat him out. It’s still unlikely, but it’s not unthinkable.
“Part of it is, with both of those guys, they made some plays we’re excited about, but they also made some plays that -- I don’t know if they’re forcing it or trying to impress everybody, but they’ve got to learn that they’ve got to let the offense come to them,” Kelly said. “They don’t always have to it happen. They have to let it happen.”