For Matt Barkley, preseason a potential showcase


For Matt Barkley, preseason a potential showcase

When he first arrived in Philly, brash former USC quarterback Matt Barkley conceded nothing to anyone about the starting job. Not Dennis Dixon, not Nick Foles, not even Mike Vick.

And when he came back to the NovaCare Complex this spring and took third-team reps behind Foles and Mark Sanchez, Barkley wasn’t willing to admit that he wasn’t in the picture to be Foles’ backup.

About two weeks into training camp, Barkley is seemingly echoing an alternate sentiment. He’s still confident, he’s still diligent, still steadfast in his belief that he can be a franchise quarterback in the league if given the opportunity.

It’s just probably not going to be here.

"I don't know what [the path] is yet. We'll see in a couple years what it is," he said after Wednesday’s walkthrough. "But obviously I do want to be a starting quarterback and play in the NFL. I definitely think I have learned a whole lot here and hope to learn a lot more. I don't know what the future will hold, but I'm excited for whatever it brings."

Sounds like a much different guy than the one who reported to training camp last year insisting that he hadn’t been ruled out in the race to be Chip Kelly’s first starter.

Barkley, who’s run exclusively with the third offense throughout camp, looks forward to Friday’s preseason opener against Chicago for different reasons than Foles. A good performance in the preseason is Barkley’s chance to have his work displayed for the 31 other teams.

He readily admitted that his preseason showcase is an audition for the rest of the NFL.

"I figure every chance you get to be on the field in front of an audience is a tryout of sorts,” he said, “whether it's for your own team, your own self or for another team. You have to prove that you're capable of playing in the NFL.

"I'm not going to be thinking of it as a test while it's happening -- I'm just going to be playing, having fun -- but when it comes down to it, that's what is going on."

Reality must have settled in some time in the past two weeks, when the coaches not only gave all second-team reps to Sanchez, a newcomer who basically bombed in his last two seasons with the Jets, but then split Barkley’s third-team reps with G.J. Kinne, the lowest man on the quarterback totem pole.

The Eagles traded up in the fourth round last year to draft Barkley. Kinne, a former Tulsa standout, signed as a rookie free agent and spent his first year on the practice squad. Even after some of Barkley’s most impressive practices -- and he’s had a few -- he never ascended the practice depth chart.

Now, it’s feasible -- although not probable -- that Barkley could end up being cut or traded as the Eagles move forward with Foles, Sanchez and Kinne.

“There are so many things that you don't have control of in this league,” Barkley said, “and so I feel like if you can just worry on how your passes are, how your mindset is going into a game and how your preparation is going, knowing your responsibilities and your reads, then everything will take care of itself.

“You don't know who's watching you on any given day. You don't know who’s talking behind closed doors or whatnot. So as long as I'm putting my best foot forward, showing them what I'm capable of …”

Barkley admitted that his short pro career so far hasn’t exactly mirrored the blueprint he had mapped out. But he’s been through an experience like this before, when USC coach Pete Carroll, the biggest reason for Barkley’s decision to play at USC, bolted for the Seahawks job after the quarterback’s freshman season.

“I remember thinking, ‘This wasn't supposed to happen.’ My plan was to play for him and he just took off,” Barkley said. “So that was kind of a young, rude awakening to the business of football. And I didn't take it personally. I got it then that it was a business move that was best for him. He was moving on and I was moving on.

“But I do remember that moment of knowing that you never know what's going to happen in the future. That second year, I learned a lot about leadership and I didn't expect it to happen but there were gains still from that year. Just like last year, I learned a whole lot about being a pro, protecting my body, recovery, all that stuff Chip emphasizes here. I didn't think that would necessarily happen last year, my rookie year, but I still learn from it.”

Jim Schwartz takes blame after Eagles' defense shredded by Redskins

Jim Schwartz takes blame after Eagles' defense shredded by Redskins

In Sunday’s 27-20 loss in Washington, the Eagles’ defense was shredded for 493 yards, 230 on the ground. 

On Thursday, speaking for the first time since the butt-whooping, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz put some of the blame squarely on his own shoulders. 

“A lot of bad things,” Schwartz said when asked what happened to his run defense. “First of all, we were bad at all three levels. Let's put it at four levels. We were bad at defensive line, we were bad at linebackers, we were bad at the secondary and we were bad at the defensive coordinator position.” 

How was Schwartz bad on Sunday? 

“I think it's my job to find a way to put a fire out and to find something that when we're not having a great day to be able to have a changeup somewhere,” he said. “Unfortunately, my changeups didn't work either.”

The Eagles are obviously hoping their bad defensive performance against Washington was just an anomaly. Before giving up 493 yards on Sunday, they hadn't given up 300 in a game. And they had given up just 100 yards on the ground once before Sunday's 230.

“It wasn't just one thing in that game,” Schwartz said. “There was a crack toss and one time we were short on all the blocks and it got our edge. The next time they ran a crack toss, everybody overran it, overplaying for that and the ball cut back on us. We missed tackles on the back end. We didn't get off blocks on the front end. We were bad in leverage at times. There's a reason that it looks so bad and it's because we were so bad.”

Schwartz pointed to the penalties as another reason why his unit struggled so much against Washington. Seven of the Eagles’ 13 accepted penalties on Sunday came on defense. 

For the second straight week, Fletcher Cox was hit with a big roughing call that led to extra points for the opponent.

“When we were playing our best early in the season, we weren't getting very many fouls,” Schwartz said. “We weren't taking many penalties. And the last couple games in particular, we're taking way too many.”

The thing that stood out the most from the Eagles’ poor defensive play on Sunday was the run defense getting gashed for 230 yards. Head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday that it’s a "pride thing."

The run defense will have a chance to bounce back this weekend. The Vikings, who lost Adrian Peterson early in the year, are averaging just 2.5 yards per attempt (the worst average in the league), but they’ve still run the ball 144 times in five games. 

Schwartz expects to see plenty of runs on Sunday at the Linc. 

“After watching us on film last week? They're gonna test us,” he said. “I don't care if they're averaging one yard per rush. You watch what we did on film last week, they're in their game plan right now saying we're going to rush 65 times. And it's our job to make sure they don't have success doing that.”

Zach Ertz hasn't been factor in Eagles' passing offense since return

Zach Ertz hasn't been factor in Eagles' passing offense since return

Zach Ertz returned to the field two weeks ago against the Lions. 

No word on when he’ll return to the stat sheet. 

The Eagles’ starting tight end had a solid opener against Cleveland, but suffered a dangerous first rib displacement that kept him out of the next two weeks. After the bye, he had healed enough to return. 

But in his two games since returning to the lineup, he hasn’t been much of a factor in the Eagles' passing offense. 

“It's just a part of the game,” Ertz said on Wednesday. “Obviously, you want the ball all the time, but that just hasn't been the case the last couple of weeks. My job is to go out there and run the best route that I possibly can and when the ball's in the air, make plays. When I get my number called, whether that's one time or 10 times a game, and that's the bottom line. Obviously, Carson (Wentz) has his reads that he has to progress through. If I get the ball, that's great. If not, that's great too.”

In the opener against the Browns, Ertz had six catches on seven targets for 58 yards. 

In the two games since returning, he has four catches on six targets for 59 yards. 

On Sunday against Washington, he had just one catch for 22 yards and wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. 

How much of his lack of production is on Wentz? 

“It’s part of what’s being called, it’s part of me finding him,” the rookie quarterback said. “It’s kind of just ... the last couple games, the flow of the game has been kind of weird. I think we only threw it 22 times last game and we only had 11 completions. So really nobody is getting real involved in a game like that ... it’s something that we definitely notice but it’s a part of how the plays are executed.”

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the offensive coaching staff sits down before the week and looks at matchups while making a game plan. Getting Ertz involved in the offense is always a part of those talks. 

And after just two less-than-impressive weeks for Ertz, Reich doesn’t necessarily see a disturbing trend. 

“I tend not to overanalyze targets in a microscopic sense,” Reich said. “I need to see it over three or four weeks and then if a guy isn't getting targeted over three or four weeks, maybe we're not doing enough for him. If it's just one or two weeks, I tend to just say that's just the flow of the game.”

In the last game, the Eagles used tight ends and running backs to help out on both edges of the line. Plays like that naturally limit Ertz and the other tight ends in the passing game. 

And Ertz actually had a chance for a big play in the fourth quarter Sunday, but he couldn’t haul in a pass in the red zone that sailed a little bit from Wentz. It went through his hands, but it’s possible if he caught it in stride, he could have sneaked into the end zone. So at least Wentz looked his way in a key moment. 

Still, for those who annually expect a “breakout year” for Ertz, 2016 has been a disappointment through six weeks. 

“I think I've grown a lot the past couple of years, trying to put ego aside,” Ertz said. “You work so hard in the offseason to help produce for the team, but at the end of the day, you can't control where the ball goes. And I think that's the one thing that I've really focused on the past couple of years. I can't control what play's called or what the quarterback's read is. All I can control is going out there and getting open and I thought I've done that the past couple weeks.”