For Matt Barkley, preseason a potential showcase

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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.”

Pinpoint touch passes show Carson Wentz has a killer changeup, too

Pinpoint touch passes show Carson Wentz has a killer changeup, too

Now the kid has a changeup, too.

A couple of the most impressive passes Carson Wentz threw Sunday weren’t fired to the receiver. They didn’t show off Wentz’s rocket-launcher right arm.

They were touch passes. Lobs. Looping things of beauty that floated high into the air above the coverage and settled softly into the hands of a receiver on the run.

Wentz, the Eagles’ 23-year-old wunderkind of a quarterback, displayed remarkable touch on a couple of his biggest passes in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc on Sunday.

It’s just the latest evolution in the development of the remarkable young Eagles quarterback.

He doesn’t just fire it. He floats it, too.

“It is a challenging thing,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Because in practice, if you’re not working on those types of throws, it just doesn't happen.

“It’s sort of a math problem in your head as a quarterback because you have a receiver that's running away from you at full speed and you are trying to put a touch pass on a 20-, 25-yard throw and so you have to judge it just right.

“That's a lot harder to do than just zipping it right at your target.”

On the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles, Wentz stood in the pocket, looked to his left and started scrambling to the right when he spotted Sproles racing down the right sideline with a step on Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.

In full stride, running to his right, Wentz threw across his body and lobbed the ball from the Eagles’ 25-yard line to a point near the 50-yard line. Sproles caught the ball without breaking stride and did the rest, eventually scoring a TD that turned a 10-point lead into a 17-point lead early in the third quarter.

In the third quarter, Wentz connected similarly with tight end Brent Celek on a 24-yard gain, this time lobbing the ball above linebacker Vince Williams and in front of safety Sean Davis for a first down inside the Pittsburgh 30-yard line to set up another touchdown.

After three games, Wentz is 3-0 with five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 65 percent completions and a 103.7 passer rating. He's the first quarterback in NFL history to open his career with three wins without an interception.

A lot of young quarterbacks want to fire every ball as hard as possible. But Wentz’s ability to change up and lob the football to his receivers makes him even more dangerous. Kind of like a young fastball pitcher who suddenly shows up in spring training with a killer changeup.

“It can be hard because you are so geared on throwing everything fast and hard,” Pederson said. “That throw to Celek was a thing of beauty. The week before, the Monday night (game), to Jordan Matthews, the little touch pass was great. The little floater to Darren for the long touchdown run was another one that was a touch pass with accuracy.

“Those are hard throws to make. Having been in that position before, those are hard. The guy is running away from you and you are trying to put air on a throw but still judge the distance and the speed of the receiver. Those are tough things to do. He really has a good feel for that and it just makes him an all-around solid quarterback.

“That’s just who he is and (shows) his ability to make really all the throws.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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