With organized team activities (OTA’s) under way for the Eagles and new coach Chip Kelly, questions are aplently for the first-time NFL coach, but none bigger than what the former Oregon Ducks offensive wiz is doing at the most important position on the field: quarterback.
Perhaps the best image to describe the madness under center for the Eagles at the moment is the one of all five QB’s throwing in unison to five seperate reveivers during the first practice. Maybe it’s the a quick peak at the depth chart, where Mike Vick, Nick Foles, Dennis Dixon, Matt Barkley and GJ Kinne are listed.
For the various pundits trying to picture just what Kelly’s offense will look like at the NFL level, some are divided as to which guy Kelly will go with. In Vick, Kelly would have the dual-threat quarterback under center like he’s had virtually every season while at the helm in Eugene. However, tape study (from bloggers more invested than myself) shows how Kelly’s offense is predicated upon using a heavy dose of creativity in the running game to set the tone for the passing game and vice-versa.
With that thought in mind, it’s no surprise that Kelly has not only retained two impressive running backs in LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, but also signed veteran Felix Jones for added depth at the position. That would seem to indicate that Kelly expects a heavy workload for his backs in the coming season.
While having a healthy stable of running backs is never the worst idea, does it hint at any sort of direction Kelly is leaning at QB? No. What further study of that Oregon game tape from the past few years does show, however, is how important it is for whatever quarterback is under center to execute the breakneck tempo of the offense.
Past quarterbacks under Kelly at Oregon might not have always been the most talented (Dixon) or gifted (Jeremiah Masoli), but they knew exactly what Kelly wanted/expected of them and executed the tempo of the offense flawlessly most of the time; leading to wins and insane gobs of yardage. One could even argue that perhaps the best QB that Kelly ever had at Oregon was his last, Marcus Mariota. While Mariota did have the athletic ability to make plays with his feet when the play broke down, he was a tremendous decision maker over the course of the season, throwing just six interceptions in 336 attempts. He also proved to be the most polished passer that Kelly ever had while at the school, throwing for the most touchdowns in one season of any QB during the Kelly era (32) while posting the highest completion percentage (68.1%).
Thanks to the success of the more pass heavy Mariota in Kelly’s offense last season, hope springs for second-year pro Nick Foles going forward. While many bloggers and “experts” had Foles’ exit pegged once Kelly got the job in Philadelphia, the coach has praised Foles for his toughness and intangibles at the position. It also helps that the Eagles had no suitors for the former second-round pick through the offseason as other QB openings around the league filled up (Arizona, Kansas City, Oakland, etc). While the Foles market dried up, pundits wondered aloud what the QB’s role would be going forward with the coach who everyone thought “needed” a mobile guy under center.
I (could be profoundly wrong here) don’t think that Kelly “needs” a mobile quarterback to run his offense. While the dual-threat does add an extra wrinkle to the overall effectiveness of the offense as a whole, it’s more about the pace and tempo that the plays are executed. The pace is what creates nightmares for opposing defenses. It creates favorable match ups through hectic play calling and tempo. It gives the offense the ability to create mismatches all over the field by keeping the defense from using substitution packages, much like how Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook in isolation on linebackers (sorry Antonio Pierce) all those years.
Off the top of your head, who of the Eagles’ current quarterbacks would be most suited to run an up-tempo offense that requires quick thinking, excellent decision making and checks at the line of scrimmage? If you are thinking anyone but Nick Foles you’re delusional. As a rookie without an offensive line in 2012, Foles was able to put up respectable numbers while being absolutely killed play after play. As he grew during his last few starts, he showed the ability to make good decisions down the field and even take advantage of what the defense was giving him.
Mike Vick, on the other hand, has never made good decisions with the ball, hasn’t progressed reading defenses and struggles with every aspect that an up-tempo offense would require. When the Oregon offense was humming, the Ducks were racking up huge chunks on the ground while mixing in high percentage throws for its quarterbacks. If there’s one guy I don’t trust to make high percentage throws, it’s Vick. When the Oregon offense was clicking, it moved the ball easily and frustrated the heck out of defenses. That lead to huge chunks in the running game and easy throws off of play-action for the quarterback.
When it’s all well and good the Ducks offense was a thing of beauty. When it wasn’t, it was because of poor decision making at quarterback on top of the failure to keep the chains moving. With a breakneck tempo like Kelly wants to run, you’d better move the chains or else you’ll be off the field and wear out your own defense while resting the opponents. If the Eagles’ running game behind with what should be a better-than-average offensive line and a stable of electirying running backs, the quarterback will be counted on to move the chains when his number is called. In that respect, Foles is clearly the better passer than Vick (or Dixon, or anyone else for that matter) and would be able to round out the offense better overall.
Sure, Foles isn’t an elite NFL quarterback at this point, but he proved to show some promise in a tough spot last year and clearly grew from start to start last season. With an improved offensive line, where he won’t be threatened to be sacked every play, and the same great weapons all over the field (including some new ones, like Zach Ertz and James Casey), Foles could work under center even without the ability to run because of his decision-making, arm strength and accuracy.
Even without the legs, Foles brings more to the offense with his intangibles than Vick does with his running ability at this point. At very worst, Kelly has probably already found out that Foles has the arm to make all the throws in the offense, and at some point will also realize that he also has the football IQ to make up for what he doesn’t bring to the table.
Oh by the way, did I mention that Kelly added a fourth-round pick with first-round talent in Matt Barkley (a guy whom both men have a mutual respect for) to the fire? Barkley is arguably the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2013 class based off of his experience in a pro-style offense at USC, his four years of starting experience and his general moxie and IQ on a football field and in the film room.
Three quarterbacks, one job, and we haven’t even gotten to Dennis Dixon yet. And that’s not even the half of it.
Compare those two YouTube videos of both Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota’s 2012 highlights and watch how they both a very similar as far as their ability to move in the pocket to find passing lanes and extend the play. While Mariota moves faster, clearly, Foles has similar footwork and an even better arm. While there are a ton of variables, yes, I don’t see any reason why Nick Foles can’t execute a lot of the same things that Mariota did just a season ago.