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.”