Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

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Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series that will run this week taking an in-depth look at the life of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Part I, on Foles' heroes -- his mom and dad -- ran Sunday. Part II on the women in his life, his mom and wife, ran Monday. Part III on how he chose football ran Tuesday.

One difficult decision Nick Foles made in May of 2008 could very well have dramatically altered the course of not only Foles’ life and career but also of the Eagles’ franchise for the next 10 years.

The decision: Leave Michigan State and enroll at Arizona.

The result: Foles got to play college football and ultimately wound up as the Eagles’ quarterback.

"When I look back at everything,” Foles says now, “I really think that you have moments in your life where you can go one way or you can go another.”

Foles, then just 18 years old, had just finished his freshman year at Michigan State. He redshirted that football season -- he got into one game against Alabama-Birmingham and threw eight passes -- and with current Redskin Kirk Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol set to battle for the Spartans’ starting quarterback job, Foles just didn’t have a reason to stay in East Lansing.

He loved Michigan State, but he knew there was a very good chance his football career would never materialize if he stayed.

“There was a moment there where I didn't know what to do, what direction to go,” he said. “I was 18, from Texas, up there, and I just prayed to have God, ‘Guide me.’ And I had tears in my eyes because I had no clue what to do.

“I talked to the family and talked to coach [Mark] Dantonio and decided it was best to go elsewhere. It was a very tough decision. I mean, I don't think I had a horrible year. I developed a lot of great friendships. (Current Eagle receiver) B.J. Cunningham was there with me. We had a lot of great times. Brent Celek's brother (Garrett) was my roommate. Love that Garrett to death.

“You’re leaving all those guys that you've developed friendships with, but I just knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.”

Foles, who had originally committed to Arizona State as a high school junior, wound up transferring to Arizona.

He joined a program that won only four bowl games in school history and hadn’t had a winning record in nine years.

Foles didn’t have much talent around him at Arizona and won just 15 of 35 starts. But Andy Reid, then the Eagles’ head coach, loved his toughness and grit and used a third-round pick to select him in the 2012 draft.

Foles showed flashes in 2012, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to complete 60 percent of his passes while throwing for at least 240 yards per game.

But he won just one of six starts on an awful team and didn’t even begin the 2013 season as the starter. But after replacing an injured Michael Vick, he blossomed, going 8-2, setting several NFL records, fashioning the third-highest passer rating in league history and earning Pro Bowl MVP honors.

If he stayed at Michigan State?

Who knows where Foles would be right now? Who knows who the Eagles' quarterback would be?

That decision was monumental.

“When I was going through the transfer process, I was going to try initially to stay in the state of Texas,” Foles said. “And no one offered. No one really even gave me a look, really.

“And Arizona, coach (Sonny Dykes, offensive coordinator) had recruited me when he was at Texas Tech. He said, ‘Hey, we’d really like you to come here, but we don’t have a scholarship. You’d have to be a walk-on the first semester.’

“It was just one of those things where making that decision to walk on at Arizona was a big life decision. ‘Do I want to do this? Should I do this?’ I knew I would regret it if I didn’t give it everything I had.”

That first season, in the fall of 2009, Foles lost a training camp battle for the starting quarterback job with Matt Scott.

But after Scott struggled the first three games, Foles became the starter and stayed there the rest of his college career.

And even though he threw for only 57 yards in his Michigan State career, he said he looks back at the experience as an important one in his development.

“I learned a lot about myself that year,” he said. “When I went to Arizona, what I went through at Michigan State equipped me to go through the battles I would have upcoming with sitting out a year, going to be the scout team quarterback every single day, going in a quarterback battle my redshirt sophomore year, not winning the quarterback battle, being a backup, and then all of a sudden I get an opportunity against Iowa and we go on an 80-yard touchdown drive and I throw it to Juron Criner [for a touchdown].

“It’s just one of those things where if I didn’t have Michigan State and went through that, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I did at Arizona. And when I say, ‘do,’ I mean able to handle the situation, every day, just not let it get to me, and just keep working.

“Everybody says it’s luck. Well, it’s, ‘Are you prepared for that opportunity when it arises?’ Because some people aren’t and then they never get another one.

“I knew at that time I would probably get one opportunity and if I didn’t show it, it might not ever happen again.”

Jalen Mills on Eagles' CBs: 'We have a standard and we're not playing at it'

Jalen Mills on Eagles' CBs: 'We have a standard and we're not playing at it'

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t exactly break any news during his press conference on Tuesday while saying his defense is in a slump

“Facts of life, our corners aren’t playing very well right now,” Schwartz said. 

No. They're not. 

Against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, the Eagles gave up 287 yards through the air. Then they gave up 313 to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. And then 332 to Andy Dalton and the Bengals. 

So in three consecutive weeks, the Eagles have had their worst game of the season in terms of passing defense. And those three weeks have compounded to put the 2016 Eagles on the absolute wrong side of history. 

The last three weeks mark the first time in franchise history the Eagles have given up 280-plus passing yards in three consecutive weeks. 

So Schwartz is right. Their corners aren’t playing very well right now. 

“Yeah, of course,” rookie Jalen Mills said when asked if his position group is in a slump. “We're not playing at the level we want to. For sure. We have a standard and we're not playing at it. But this is a game where we're really looking forward to.” 

So what has happened to the unit that had given up just 222.4 yards per game through the air for the first nine games of the season? 

Well, Nolan Carroll pointed toward technique. The veteran said at times, for whatever reason, he and Mills and Leodis McKelvin have gotten lazy with their technique, but it’s on just a few big plays that change games. When asked how that can happen this late in the season, he didn’t have an answer. 

McKelvin had a different view of what’s gone wrong. 

“Hey, there are great athletes in this world that play football,” he said. “Those guys are going to make plays. They're not like average [guys] out there. They're paid to make plays … so when the ball does come their way, they're going to do the best they can to make plays. We just have to do the best we can do defend that, and that's what we're doing.”

Every defense gives up big plays from time to time. But the frequency which with these Eagles have given up big plays is troubling. 

The Eagles have given up 47 passing plays of 20 or more yards. That's the most in the NFL. By comparison, the lowest number in the league belongs to Denver and Jacksonville (26).  

What does Mills think their problem has been? 

“I think it's the National Football League,” he said. “Things aren't always going to go your way. You are going to have those games where things just aren't working. But as a group, we have to keep grinding, period.”

Cornerbacks, perhaps more than any other position, depend on confidence. Every corner is going to get beat, so it’s important to shake it off and line up ready in a few seconds. That’s not easy. 

But Schwartz on Tuesday said he hasn’t lost confidence in this bunch because it’s the same group that “shut down some of the best offenses in the NFL” earlier in the year. 

Likewise, all three corners said they haven’t lost confidence, either. 

“Very high. Same as it was at the beginning of the year,” Mills said. “Like I said, things happen. If a guy catches a ball, nobody's out there losing their mind or going crazy about it. They caught a ball, line up on the next play.”

“Me, Leo and Jalen, we're still confident that we're going to get it done,” Carroll said. 

At this point in the season, it’s fair to question the trade that shipped last year’s second-round pick, Eric Rowe, out of town before the opener. That left the Eagles with Carroll, McKelvin, Mills and Ron Brooks, who landed on IR earlier this season. 

That means with a schedule that saw Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Marvin Jones, DeSean Jackson and others, the Eagles entrusted a guy on a one-year deal (Carroll), a veteran who never lived up to his draft status (McKelvin) and a seventh-round pick (Mills). 

Meanwhile, the Eagles invested a ton of money this offseason in their two safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. 

“Well, you know, a lot of it is availability, also,” Schwartz said when asked for his philosophy on paying corners vs. safeties. “I mean, there's a lot of great corners in the league that don't become available in free agency, and you've got to take every chance you can to improve our team, or to improve anyway you can. There's something to be said for being strong up the middle, also. So I guess I don't know any other way to answer it than that, but good corners are important.”

And right now, the Eagles’ corners aren’t playing well. 

Not that it’s news to anyone.

Eagles Film Review: Run game struggled early against Bengals

Eagles Film Review: Run game struggled early against Bengals

Carson Wentz threw 60 passes on Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. Sixty!

That's an incredible number, but it came from the fact that the Eagles got down in the 32-14 loss very early. At one point, they were down 29-0, so they needed to pass to get back into the game. 

But, believe it or not, they tried to establish the run early. Of their 16 called rushing plays during the game, nine of them came on their first three drives. They were wildly unsuccessful running the ball early. 

On those nine carries, they picked up just 14 yards (1.56 yards per attempt) and lost yardage on three of them. Six of those carries belonged to Wendell Smallwood, who did break off a nine-yarder, and three belonged to Darren Sproles. As you'll see, the Bengals didn't simply just stack the box on every play early. The Eagles had opportunities and they didn't make the most of them.  

Perhaps the Eagles really did miss Ryan Mathews in this game. In the two games without Mathews, the Eagles rushed for 81 and then 53 yards. 

Here's a look at what went wrong early for the Eagles' run game against Cincinnati: 

The Eagles came out ready to run. This is the very first play from scrimmage on Sunday afternoon. Carson Wentz is in shotgun with Smallwood lined up to his left. Brent Celek is on the left side of the line. Smallwood is about to run off the left end. 

Linebacker Vincent Rey clearly saw where this play was going; it was pretty clear it was going left. Had this been an inside draw play, or if he cut it upfield, Smallwood might have had a hole. 

Instead, the linebacker pushes him wider and eventually Jason Peters loses his block. This play was a loss of two yards and helped expedite a quick three-and-out. 

On the next drive, after the Bengals went up 3-0, the Eagles are sticking with the run. It's still early, Smallwood is in the backfield and the Eagles have a hat for a hat in the box. 

Off the snap, right guard Brandon Brooks does his job and opens up a hole. At this point, Smallwood is probably thinking he has a nice gain coming his way. 

But Domata Peko, who seemed to disrupt the Eagles for much of the afternoon, sheds his block from Stefen Wisniewski and quickly fills the hole. 

Smallwood is swallowed by Bengals defenders after a short two-yard gain. Now, the next run did go for nine yards, but eventually the Eagles' drive stalled and they punted away. 

Now, the Eagles are on their third drive of the game and they're already down 10-0. But they still don't want to give up on the run just yet. In fact, on their third drive of the game, they ran the ball five times. 

By the time this play happens, early in the second quarter, they have already picked up three first downs on this drive and they're moving. Doug Pederson is going to stick with the run. It's 1st-and-10 from the Cincinnati 33-yard line. 

On this play, Wentz is in pistol with Sproles behind him. They have Celek off the right tackle at the snap. 

The Eagles have Brooks pull to the left side of the line, which briefly creates a hole up the gut. And the little misdirection at least gets linebacker Karlos Dansby leaning the wrong way and is about to get picked up by Peters. 

But safety Shawn Williams doesn't get fooled by the little misdirection. He's there to fill the hole and stop this play for a 1-yard gain. 

The Eagles followed this play with an incomplete pass and then a run that went for a loss of one before Caleb Sturgis doinked a field goal off the right upright. 

On the ensuing drive, the Bengals went up 13-0 and never really looked back. The Eagles showed that they wanted to establish the run on Sunday, but they failed. And then they had to try to pass to get back in the game.