NFL: New Eagles coach making QBs sweat
Philadelphia • It's up for interpretation, but when Michael Vick told reporters at the end of June's minicamp that he had difficulty splitting first-team repetitions, and later privately to one reporter that he wanted Chip Kelly to name his quarterback by training camp, it seemed as if the pressure of the competition was getting to him.
If that were the case, then how will Vick or, really, any of the other quarterbacks react if Kelly, as many expect, takes all of the preseason to decide on a starter?
That is entirely the point of a prolonged competition. Kelly, of course, wants to see who will perform the best the next six weeks. But there is more that goes into a quarterback's performance than just his innate physical skills.
There are unquantifiable traits intangibles such as confidence, leadership, mental toughness, and just plain old toughness that will either aid or hinder a candidacy.
And to find out who has what it takes Kelly wants to see his quarterbacks sweat.
"As I've said before with a big decision like that, you want to make sure you take the whole body of work into consideration," he said last month. "If in practice three they have a [bad] practice, do they come back in practice four and bounce back pretty good?"
Kelly had Vick, Nick Foles, and Matt Barkley the three quarterbacks with any real shot at starting for about 25 days of practice in the spring. Of the half dozen or so practices that the media attended, Vick and Foles split first-team reps and Barkley took the majority of third-team snaps.
After the final practice on June 6, Vick was asked whether it was difficult having to switch from the starters to the second team.
"It's tough," Vick said. "I have to continue to be a professional and put my feelings and emotions to the side and just continue to compete. But it's hard. I would be lying if I said it wasn't. That's just what I have to deal with, and I'm going to keep dealing with it."
Vick more recently has tried to distance himself from those comments and the apparent stance he took in regard to his coach naming a starter sooner rather than later. Kelly was asked if a quarterback's reaction to competition like Vick's made him question his mental toughness.
"That doesn't bother me," he said.
Foles has given essentially the same answer when asked about the depth chart.
"What is me worrying about where I am on the pecking order really matter?" he said. "I don't go to sleep at night sweating, wondering where I am. What I can do is I can work hard, come out on the field and be leader to these guys, execute the plays and make the guys around me better."
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson echoed Vick's statement when he said last month that he preferred to have a starter named as soon as possible. He said earlier this week on ESPN, when pressed, that he thought Vick would ultimately prevail.
That could be wishful thinking. It would be natural for Jackson and other veterans to back Vick, who they've mostly played alongside over the last three seasons. There are also many Eagles that grew up idolizing Vick, so it would be natural for them to support him.
Vick has never been a vocal leader, but some players have said in the past that he's the type of quarterback who can rally an offense because of the electricity of his play and his physical toughness.
Foles took a terrible beating behind a leaky offensive line during his senior year at Arizona. While Foles was deferential to Vick and had sort of an "aw, shucks" demeanor with the media as a rookie, there has been a little more edge to his personality in his second season.
"Although his demeanor is very quiet," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, "he has a way of taking charge of things."
But will the players gravitate to one over the other?
"They might look to both of us," Foles said. "It's not necessarily that they may pick one or the other. Each guy respects every quarterback on this team enough to where you can be men about it."
And that likely includes Barkley, who has no NFL experience but doesn't lack starting experience. The Southern Cal product and Southern California native has been in the spotlight since he was a freshman at Mater Dei High. He doesn't appear to be lacking in the confidence department.
Not long after he arrived in Philadelphia, Barkley was asked about starting right away, and the fourth-round draft pick said quite plainly that he thought it was possible.
But that was before he practiced alongside Vick and Foles, and way before the starting of training camp, which begins on Tuesday.
"Some of the other things that are going to go into it, like having the toughness to stand in the pocket," Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor said, "some of those things don't come out until the pads are on."
The race has hardly been run. Now the show begins.