Player to watch at training camp: Matt Barkley

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Player to watch at training camp: Matt Barkley

June 16, 2013, 10:00 am
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Who will I be watching at training camp? I’m going with Matt Barkley.

Not since Mike Vick came in as Donovan McNabb’s "backup" has so much attention been on an Eagles non-starting quarterback. When the Eagles drafted Barkley out of Southern California in the fourth round, the immediate speculation was that he would vie for the second-string role. Of course, we still don’t know the depth chart and who will be first on that chart, but that’s for another time and another post.

But why I’m interested in watching Barkley at camp isn’t because I think he’ll be the backup or starter this year. It’s because of what he can do eventually. To me, he’s a very boom-or-bust type of pick, which, in my opinion, is why he was a bargain in the fourth round. I think he can boom in the NFL. Sure, he doesn’t have great arm strength, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re accurate.

Chip Kelly drafted a few Pac-12 guys and there is definitely a reason behind that: familiarity. He knows what this kid can do. I put emphasis on can because we haven’t always seen that ability on display with Barkley in college.

I’ll preface my interest with this: I watch a lot of college football. A lot. Saturdays are a great day to be in front of a TV, in my opinion. And since I usually work Saturday nights, when I get home, I get to watch a lot of West Coast football. That means Pac-12. Barkley is the all-time Pac-12 leader in touchdown passes and passing yards. Impressive in that conference. But you can’t look at stats alone to judge Barkley.

I’m intrigued by him because, in recent history, USC quarterbacks have fared poorly in the NFL, almost epically poorly. Right now, in the league, the best USC quarterback is Carson Palmer. Yup, Palmer. They have two QB Heisman winners in the NFL currently. One is a career backup in Matt Leinart and Palmer has bounced around after "retiring" in Cincinnati. And I don’t even need to tell you about Mark Sanchez.

Barkley could very well head down this same bumpy path if he gets in the wrong system. But if he’s in a system that plays to his strengths -- creating plays and managing the game -- I think he can be successful.

He has a tendency to get turnover happy and then that gets in his head. It’s OK to be a cowboy if it pays off, a la Brett Favre. It’s not OK to be a cowboy if it leads your team to a 6-6 record, losing five of your last six games (see USC's 2012 season).

At times last season, Barkley was masterful. Against Colorado (I know, I know), Barkley was outstanding. He completed 19 of 20 passes and threw for 298 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. But then he was miserable, too. Look at the UCLA game (a loss) and the Stanford game (a loss), where he threw three and two interceptions, respectively, and that cost the Trojans those games. He was working in a pro-style offense, with two, maybe three, bona fide, NFL-type receivers. Yet they won only six games last season. He tried to do too much -- be a cowboy, sling it all over the field, miss receivers and throw interceptions.

Many will point to his coach, Lane Kiffin, to blame for Barkley’s struggles last season and I can absolutely see that. I think Kiffin is just not there offensively to run the type of system that will be successful for Barkley or any top-level QB. In my opinion, it remains to be seen if Kiffin can do that at any level. But that’s just my opinion. Obviously USC is fine with him, since he survived the college firing spree at the end of last season, but Barkley should have been able to find a way to win with the offensive weapons he had, despite his coach. Barkley played with plenty of guys who are Sunday players. He takes a lot of risks and so far, I haven’t seen that much reward.

The biggest risk Barkley took was not coming out after the 2011 season. He was projected as a first-round pick. He stayed in school, didn’t play in USC’s last two games because of an injured shoulder, including its bowl game, and then he fell to the fourth round. However, that may actually benefit him. He can back up or be the third-string QB, learn yet another new offense and not have to do too much, too early. What that offense is, however, only Chip Kelly knows.

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