Quarterback diversity backs Chip Kelly's claim

Quarterback diversity backs Chip Kelly's claim

April 27, 2013, 2:30 pm
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We’re an equal-opportunity scoring offense.
—Chip Kelly talking about his diverse group of QBs

Now do you believe him?

Chip Kelly has said from the first day the Eagles hired him that mobility isn’t mandatory from his quarterbacks, that his track record of winning with running quarterbacks at Oregon overshadowed his resume of shattering records with pocket passers at New Hampshire.

Despite what he’s said over and over again, people have assumed that Kelly is planning to bring the read option offense to South Philly, that he’s looking for the next Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick.

After passing on Geno Smith three times between Thursday and Friday, Kelly plucked Southern California product Matt Barkley in the fourth round Saturday, trading up three spots to leapfrog the Chiefs for the first pick in the round (see story).

Barkley isn’t fast or speedy or experienced in the read option or wishbone. He’s merely the all-time leader passer at USC, the same school that produced three first-round pick quarterbacks in the past 10 years, and just left as the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer.

“We’re an equal-opportunity scoring offense,” Kelly insisted again Saturday. “Whether we throw it across the line or run it across the line. When I was at New Hampshire, we didn’t run the ball very much, we had a quarterback who won the Walter Payton Award (given to the top offensive player in Division I) and threw 125 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. If we can wing it, we’ll wing it. If we can run it, we’ll run it.”

His stable of quarterbacks is an eclectic mix of dual threats Michael Vick, Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne along with conventional pocket passers Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.

Vick, Dixon and Kinne can all execute the read option, which Kelly introduced last week at the team’s pre-draft minicamp. Barkley and Foles aren’t lethal scramblers, but neither is considered an underwhelming athlete.

The competition is wide open and the offense will be eventually massaged and catered to the best overall player, not vice versa.

The No. 1 trait he’s looking for in this competition? The ability to move the chains through the air.

“We had different quarterbacks when I was at Oregon, and really the key is playing to their strengths,” he said. “But everything we do, our quarterback has got to be able to throw. To play at the level of college football we were at and to play in the NFL, you need to have a quarterback that’s accurate and can move the ball, and protect and not turn it over and do all those things.

“If the fact [is] that they have the ability to run, I believe that’s an added bonus, but that’s not the precursor to what we do. We’ve said it since Day 1.”

Kelly’s record-smashing offenses at Oregon were centered on fast quarterbacks with good arms but even better mobility, which is the primary reason for assumptions that Kelly prefers -- and will eventually settle on -- the Eagles' quarterback who best uses his legs.

His last Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns this past season. Dixon, who played at Oregon when Kelly was offensive coordinator, set the school record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (1,208).

But Kelly is quick to point out that his quarterbacks were always accurate passers with good arms and that he didn’t run the same option schemes that Urban Meyer used for Tim Tebow at Florida.

“If anyone asked me when I was at Oregon recruiting, I wanted a quarterback who has the ability to run. I do not want a running back that can throw,” he said.  “We’ve never been that type of offense. I think that’s a big misconception. We didn’t run the same offense that Florida ran with Tim Tebow, with running quarterback power. We’ve never run that play.

“If there’s an opportunity because the defensive end [overplays] it and there’s green grass and you can go and get a first down, slide real quick, give the ball to the official, get up again and get ready to play. But in this league, you have to throw the football and that’s the first skill set we’re looking for.”

The Eagles may have the NFL’s most unique and diverse stash of quarterbacks, which only adds to the intrigue of this year’s training camp and gives the coaches several different options as they manicure the playbook.

They have the NFL’s all-time leading rusher for a quarterback (Vick), a quarterback who spearheaded an option offense in college (Foles), a quarterback who has read option experience (Dixon), a quarterback considered best suited for a West Coast offense (Barkley) and a quarterback who once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds (Kinne).

“There’ll be a lot of balls being thrown during the next couple months here [at the spring camps] before we break and go to preseason camp,” Kelly said. “So I think everybody will have an opportunity here.”