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Dennis Dixon came off the NovaCare Complex practice field and stopped a few yards from the entrance to the facility. The quarterback took off his helmet and held it in his right hand. His left hand was empty, though it might as well have been clinging to the words Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has continually repeated.
“Chip Kelly made it known that it’s an open competition,” Dixon said after Monday’s OTA session. “The job is open. May the best man win. Throughout these first couple of weeks, everyone is working hard.”
Everyone might be working hard, but everyone is not getting the same amount of work.
While Dixon is holding on to the idea that the Eagles’ starting quarterback gig is an open tryout, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be afforded the same opportunity to land the job. On Monday, Nick Foles and Michael Vick both worked with the first team (see story). Rookie fourth-round draft pick Matt Barkley was third in line behind those two. And then there was Dixon.
He followed Barkley for the 11-on-11 drills, but he didn’t throw nearly as many passes as the other three quarterbacks. And during Period 15 – a 7-on-7 drill – it seemed like Dixon was an afterthought. He finally got a chance to throw a pass toward the end, but there were only 12 seconds left in that particular session. (All of Kelly’s periods are timed. When the clock expires, a new drill begins). That pass was a short flare to the right side of the field that was a little underthrown and then dropped by Clay Harbor. By the time the ball hit the grass, the Eagles had moved along to something else.
Dixon threw his arms up and seemed a little frustrated – either because the pass was incomplete or because he threw the ball only once in that period. Or maybe both.
Dixon said he thought he performed “fairly well” on Monday, but he also acknowledged that it wasn’t easy to get in a quality passing rhythm because he didn’t get as many chances as he’d like.
“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Dixon said. “I just have to roll with the punches. Whenever my number is called, I just have to be ready. I pride myself on doing that and doing the little things.”
The Eagles signed the 28-year-old to a two-year, incentive-laden deal (see story) back in February despite the fact that Dixon’s professional career has been forgettable so far.
The 6-foot-3, 209-pound quarterback has appeared in just four NFL games since the Pittsburgh Steelers took him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. He’s completed 35 of 59 passes (59.3 percent) for 402 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 56 yards and another touchdown. But Dixon, who spent last season on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, hasn’t played in a game since 2010. (And yet he has two Super Bowl rings, one with the Steelers and another with the Ravens.)
“It’s been this way since I was a little kid,” Dixon said about trying to prove himself as a quarterback. “I always have to have that edge, whatever it is. I always have to put that much more forward. I just want everyone to see that, that’s all.”
Kelly saw it years ago when both were at the University of Oregon. Part of the reason Dixon signed with the Eagles was because of their familiarity with each other.
In his senior year, Dixon completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 583 yards and nine more touchdowns while leading the Ducks to an 8-1 record and the No. 2 ranking in the BCS. Dixon was a Heisman Trophy candidate that year but tore his ACL before the season was over. Despite the injury, he was unanimously named the Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Compared to what the Ducks ran in college, Dixon said this version of Kelly’s offensive scheme is “more fast paced.”
“I think in college it was a learning process for us going into the seasons with Chip Kelly,” Dixon said. “This time around, it’s faster. It’s more efficient. It’s a quarterback’s job to get everybody ready – fast.”
That may be their job, but it’s hard to look fast and be fast when you spend so much time standing around and watching everyone else. Before he went into the locker room on Monday, Dixon evaluated the quarterback competition. He talked about how it was “very even” and “very competitive” and “everyone is good in their own way.”
“As for me,” he added, “I just try to exploit my [talent] whenever I get out there.”