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Matt Barkley At QB: Remember Him?

Posted Jun 10, 2015

Not long ago he was the quarterback in the center of the media frenzy. Now Matt Barkley walks off the field after an OTA session and stops for a single reporter to have a conversation ...

Not long ago he was the quarterback in the center of the media frenzy. Now Matt Barkley walks off the field after an OTA session and stops for a single reporter to have a conversation.

"I'm just focused on my job and improving myself," he says. "That's all that matters."

That's the truth for the third-year quarterback who has been an afterthought for a Philadelphia media chasing the made-over quarterback position for the Eagles. There was the trade to acquire Sam Bradford, the re-signing of Mark Sanchez to a two-year contract and the addition of Tim Tebow to fan the flames of interest at the position.

And then there is Barkley, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013 after a star career at USC. He's played in exactly four NFL games and has thrown 50 passes, completing 30 with four interceptions and zero touchdowns. Where is Barkley on the pecking order here? Will he ever become a starter in the league, as he looked so destined to be when he threw for more than 12,000 yards and tossed 116 touchdown passes at USC?

These are questions to ponder for the media and for the fans. Barkley has this day-to-day focus about him. He knows how the game changes so quickly. He heard all the reports that the Eagles wanted to move him in the offseason. None of that matters. What matters is him, every day. What matters is that he shows the Eagles' coaching staff that he deserves to be in the quarterback conversation.

"I think this spring is the best I've played since I've been here," Barkley said. "My reps are definitely up. I think I'm throwing the ball well with a lot of velocity on it. The offense feels second nature to me now. I know where to go with the football. It feels natural. My mind is clicking through my progressions quicker now.

"Everything has been positive. Good feedback from the coaches. I'm excited about where I am."

Barkley knows he has a roster battle on his hands. The Eagles have Bradford and Sanchez at the top of the depth chart, with Barkley and Tebow battling for the third quarterback job. Doesn't matter. Barkley is as excited as anyone to get to the preseason games and build upon last summer's performance -- he was 41 of 65 for 495 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and an 82.5 passer rating -- but first there is the matter of finishing this week's OTAs strong and then taking steps forward at next week's mandatory mini-camp.

A lot has changed for Barkley since the Eagles traded up to the top of the fourth round in the 2013 NFL Draft to select him. The shine of his collegiate accomplishments has faded. Barkley understands the way the NFL works, of course. He sees the business side of things. There are no guarantees.

Barkley accepts the challenge. He is digging in for the competition and the chance to show that his game is better than it has ever been. Physically, Barkley says, he is far beyond anywhere he's previously been. The shoulder injury that cut short his senior season at USC is a thing of the past. Gone. Goodbye. Barkley has a live arm and he's throwing with zest.

"I was looking back at my Pro Day (as he prepared for the 2013 NFL Draft) tape and it was kind of embarrassing to watch," he said. "I just didn't have the arm strength then that I have now. There is no comparison. Because of my injury, I couldn't come over the top. I was throwing so much sidearm and couldn't get the power through my legs that I needed to have. I just didn't have nearly the velocity on the ball that I have now.

"I've worked hard on my delivery, my mechanics. I've improved my torque so much working with Tom House (former major league pitcher who specializes in throwing and who has been chronicled quite a bit this offseason for his work with Tebow). I'm generating a lot more force. My mechanics are where I want them to be."

And all of this means what, exactly? That's to be determined. The Eagles are giving the quarterbacks so many reps on the field. The coaches are watching, evaluating, correcting. Barkley says he hears positive feedback not only from the coaches, but from his teammates. He knows he's taken steps forward, but just how much? How does a player improve when he doesn't play on Sundays?

"It's a little rough, but at the same time I've been able to hone in on the fundamentals that were lacking that first year and focus my attention more on the things that matter," Barkley said. "It has its pros and cons. I'm dying to get on the field and play. I know I can play in this league and that it's just a matter of time for me.

"A lot of things happened in this offseason. I can't control all of that. I can't spend my time thinking about it. I just have to get better. I know that. I was in California in the offseason getting in my best shape physically and mentally and that work paid off. This is the best I've been."

Is that enough to win a job here? What is Barkley's NFL future? Good questions, for sure. Now, though, Barkley does his work and then walks past the media mania that was once intended for him and he goes about his business. There is a lot more to think about than microphones and press clippings. Barkley wants to take his career to the next stage, the highest level. He's on his way, he says, and each day on the field contributes to that body of work.

"I feel like it's all coming together," Barkley said. "I can feel it and I can see it with the way I'm playing."

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