Matt Barkley silencing concerns over arm strength

Matt Barkley silencing concerns over arm strength

May 29, 2013, 10:00 am
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Matt Barkley threw for a Pac-12 record 12,327 yards at USC. (USA Today Images)

It’s no secret why Matt Barkley wasn’t picked in the first three rounds of last month’s draft.
 
Questions about his arm strength have dogged Barkley for years, and despite tremendous production in college, those questions and a minor shoulder injury that didn’t even require surgery morphed a 2011 Heisman Trophy hopeful into a 2013 fourth-round draft pick.
 
Draft analysts had a field day questioning Barkley’s arm strength before the draft, but a few weeks into his NFL career, the Eagles are thrilled with Barkley’s arm, not to mention every other facet of his game.
 
From the handful of rookie camp and OTA practices open to the media, Barkley appears to have plenty of zip on the ball, not to mention terrific accuracy.
 
He may not have a Michael Vick cannon, but the ball sure seems to get where it’s supposed to go.
 
“He’s been able to make all the throws,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Down the field, intermediate, short. He’s got a strong enough
arm. What’s most important is that he can throw it accurately, and he’s shown that ability as well. We don’t feel like we have any issue at all with Matt’s arm strength.”
 
Barkley smiled and answered politely when asked about the criticism he’s heard since he was in high school.
 
Weak arm?
 
“I don’t listen to it,” he said after Tuesday’s rainy OTA practice. “People are going to say what they want. I know who I am, and I don’t
think if you focus on other people and what other people say then that can make you any better. Let alone, it will probably make you worse, because you’re just thinking about that all the time.
 
“So I just focus on what I do and who I am. It never bothered me. If I just perform like I always did, I’d be fine.”
 
The NFL quarterback Barkley is compared to the most is probably Drew Brees, who’s done OK for himself. Brees happened to win a Super Bowl without completing a pass longer than 27 yards.
 
Ben Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls without completing a pass over 40 yards. In the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins, Tom Brady hit just one pass over 33 yards – a 52-yarder to Deion Branch with Matt Ware covering him in 2004.

So it’s obviously possible to have tremendous success in the NFL without chucking 60-yard bombs up and down the field.
 
Plus, as Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor points out, you don’t throw for more than 12,000 yards in college without having a powerful arm. Barkley threw for a Pac 12-record 12,327 yards at USC, 19th-most in NCAA Division 1 history.
 
“I have no problem with him playing in the National Football League, how he throws the football,” Lazor said.
 
“From the first day he walked on the field here, that's how we evaluated him coming out. If you watch the Oregon tape from last year, you could see why coach [Chip] Kelly wouldn't have worried about it either."
 
Here’s the other thing about Barkley, who the Eagles took with the first pick in the fourth round of the draft: He’s 22.  

Lazor believes he’ll get bigger and stronger physically, and as he grows more comfortable mentally and more decisive in the NFL his arm will look even stronger.
 
“Look at a major-league pitcher – if he comes up at 21 or 22 years old, is he done improving?” Lazor said. “You can add some miles per hour to that.
 
“I definitely think he’ll continue to improve mentally and physically and put it all together as a quarterback. Some of that arm strength is, ‘When do I speed that up and when don’t I?’ Matt’s the kind of guy who’s going to put it all together.”
 
Kelly had a great view of Barkley’s arm in four Oregon-USC games. Barkley averaged 315 yards in four games against Kelly’s Ducks, and in the last two – in 2011 and 2012 – he completed 61 of 88 passes for 809 yards, with nine TDs, three interceptions and TD passes of 59 and 79 yards.
 
“When I watched him in person, I think he can deliver the ball,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the arm-strength aspect of it is overrated because people are trying to paint it with a brush. We’re not trying to knock over milk cartons at a county fair. It’s about if you can put the ball in the right spot at the right time.
 
“I’ve seen that over the course of Matt’s career. I know he’s the all-time leading passer at USC and maybe the all-time passing leader in PAC 12 history and there’s been some pretty good quarterbacks there, so it’s not a one-year wonder and not a kid that just showed up. … He’s done it for four-straight years.
 
“I think the accuracy part is more important than the arm-strength part. There’s been some big strong guys that can just sling a ball, but those guys to me are throwers and not passers. Matt is a passer.”