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Trent Cole is an inquiring mind. The veteran Eagles pass rusher shares a locker room with Michael Vick and Nick Foles, but he’s as far removed from -- and equally curious about -- the competition between his two teammates this summer to decide the first quarterback of the Chip Kelly era.
He isn’t alone. Given the widespread impact felt by a decision this significant, he and other teammates who aren’t directly involved in the joust are still watching closely. It started during the spring camps.
“Uh, yeah, we’ve been taking glances,” Cole said last month as the the Eagles prepared for their six-week break before training camp. “We’re curious just like anybody.”
Training camp starts when rookies report July 22. The rest of the pack arrives three days later. The storyline that promises to capture daily headlines, both locally and nationally, is the face-off to decide who starts at the game’s most important position.
Vick and Foles split first-team reps throughout the minicamps and organized team activities, but nobody has ruled out rookie Matt Barkley or even Dennis Dixon.
The competition promises to place all of the quarterbacks (with the exception of G.J. Kinne ... no offense, G.J.) under the microscope every day at camp and become the dominant topic of the Philadelphia sports scene this summer, especially if the Phillies fizzle out of the playoff race.
But the chatter won’t just be reserved to water coolers and sports-talk stations around the Delaware Valley. It’ll be the gossip around the Gatorade jug at the NovaCare Complex. Lines will be drawn, allegiances pledged.
“We’ll see what happens,” said right guard Todd Herremans, one of several teammates directly impacted by the decision. “I have no idea what’s going to happen back there. I think there [are] at least three guys that will be able to run the offense for us.”
In general, most of the Eagles have remained diplomatic in the face of potentially uncomfortable questions about the job battle and which quarterback might emerge as the best choice. DeSean Jackson last month echoed Vick’s sentiment that the team would benefit from Kelly naming a starter before camp (a suggestion Kelly has already shot down), but the Pro Bowl wideout stopped well short of indicating any lean toward Vick, Foles or anyone else.
On the flip side, three teammates whose play in camp will help influence Kelly’s decision -- left guard Evan Mathis, halfback LeSean McCoy and wideout Jeremy Maclin -- have each said they’re cool with the head coach letting the quarterbacks duke it out.
“In all honesty, a lot of guys’ jobs are at stake,” center Jason Kelce said. “But like you said, that one is much more of a spotlight position because they’re both splitting every single rep with the 1s.
“I like both of them. I can’t tell you that I prefer one or the other. Whoever performs better, and whoever is going to give us a better chance at winning, that’s who I prefer to be in with.”
What will go unforgotten in the daily hysteria of the team’s first pure quarterback battle since 1997 (between Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete) is the important role played by the non-quarterbacks in helping Kelly make the right decision.
For the quarterbacks to put on their best showcase, each will need the benefit of protection up front, blitz pick-up from running backs, and tight ends and receivers to run correct routes and secure the ball. Any extra effort -- a crippling block here, a sprawling catch there -- can only help.
“They can’t worry about what we’re doing, about what’s revolving around our position,” Vick said. “DeSean can’t go out and try to catch every pass because I’m in the quarterback competition. That’s extra pressure he’s putting on himself for no reason. No added pressure. This game is hard as it is for everybody.”
Easy enough to say, but the linemen and receivers are fully aware that any mishaps or breakdowns on their end can force a quarterback into an unfavorable situation. And every snap is vital until Kelly makes the call.
“Hey, I expect them to play hard, no matter what,” Foles said. “If there is a starter, if there’s not, if there’s a quarterback competition, I expect those guys to play hard each and every day. And I’ve seen that out here [at the minicamps]. Each and every day, no matter who it is, they’re playing as hard as they can, no matter who it is.”
During the spring, the Eagles put up a unified front to combat any questions seeking an edge for one quarterback over the other. Politically correct answers and votes of confidence for anyone Kelly chooses made for a bipartisan effort that probably won’t last the entire summer.
Teammates will form their own opinions, and human nature eventually will reveal itself, perhaps in 140 characters on Twitter or during a radio interview. It wouldn’t be shocking if players started to favor one quarterback over the others as camp progresses and make their opinions known.
The potential for a polarized locker room is there.
“But I feel like usually the guy that you think should be the guy is the guy that ends up being the starter,” Kelce said, “because usually that’s the guy who’s being the most productive.”
Then there’s the ticklish scenario of how the competitive atmosphere will impact the relationship between Vick and Foles, who so far have shown mutual admiration for each other in the face of some pointed questions about their impending grapple for the job.
This is the first time they’ve squared off against each other as equal contestants, and even Kelly assumed that testiness between the two would be a natural byproduct of the competition.
“Can it get tense? Yeah,” Kelly said. “When people are competing for a starting job in the NFL ... but it’s no different than any other position. I understand, more scrutiny is made on the quarterback position than anything else, but there’s no difference with who’s your safety or who’s your linebacker or who’s your linemen. There is competition at every spot. Those guys can get testy, too. It’s the nature of the game.”