Across the country, thousands of college students are tossing their caps into the air as part of the customary graduation tradition as they take what they've learned and hope to apply it in their new professions. The same can be said for the Eagles' rookies, just don't expect them to throw their helmets towards the sky.
The football education of rookie quarterback Matt Barkley to this point would certainly qualify for some sort of post-graduate degree.
"What I learned along the way, I think, set me up really well for the NFL and Philadelphia," Barkley said on this week's edition of Eagles Live! with Dave Spadaro.
Barkley has been the starting quarterback of his football team dating back to his freshman year at prep powerhouse Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif. After a remarkable high school career, Barkley arrived at USC, the school he dreamed of playing at since he was 5 years old, and started as a true freshman. He would finish his career not just as the school leader, but the conference's all-time record-holder for most passing yards and yards of total offense.
The Eagles were shocked to find Barkley still available to start the third day of the NFL Draft. With a second-round grade on Barkley, the Eagles decided to move up four spots through a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. On the surface, the marriage of Barkley, a traditional pocket passer, and Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense initially appeared odd. But just over a month after being drafted, Barkley is "absolutely" thrilled to be playing for the coach who used to be on the opposing sideline at Oregon.
"It's fantastic and I love being a part of this community, this franchise," Barkley said. "These teammates and coaches are the best I've been a part of. I've yet to really dive into the city, but I'm looking forward to once I get some free time to really explore it."
Barkley's transition to the NFL has been aided by his experiences at playing at USC, which is put under the microscope receiving the same amount of scrutiny that pro franchises endure. It has also been helped by a work ethic that has been praised by the assistant coaches. Barkley is typically one of the first players to arrive at the NovaCare Complex each morning. He will spend 14 hours a day at the facility which explains why the trip back-and-forth from his hotel room has provided most of the quarterback's view of the city thus far.
Poised and confident in his interactions with teammates and media, Barkley may have to prepare for something he has not had to face in the past eight years. While he is in the mix for the starting quarterback job, Barkley is in a battle that is expected to last into the preseason.
"I like to picture myself as always competing with myself to make me a better quarterback, but now you add the fact that there are other players competing for that same position and trying to take your starting job," he said. "I think it just elevates everyone in the quarterback room here with the Eagles to play better and to challenge each other to make better plays and then try to out-do each other."
Barkley said that the biggest difference in learning Kelly's offense is the run-game concepts. The passing philosophy is similar to what Barkley has worked with in the past, but it's a matter of choreographing the dance between his footwork and the timing of the offense.
"Just establishing a different rhythm with your drop is what's been the most challenging," Barkley said. "Throwing the ball on timing routes and whatnot is all the same. You just have to almost re-train your mind in certain areas."
The Eagles have one final Organized Team Activity on Friday before the mandatory mini-camp next week. Barkley believes that he's improved as a quarterback in the short time that he's been here. The key is learning to not make the same mistakes multiple times.
"Even when you do make a mistake, it's how many times can you eliminate that re-occurring," Barkley said. "I think I've been doing that. Inevitably, there are going to be times when there are new things that you see and it's a new offense, it's a new read, something you're not used to so you do make a mistake, but you try to eliminate those as much as possible."
Improving as a quarterback is more than just the X's and O's, but the mental and physical aspects of the game as well for Barkley. Kelly's attention to detail when it comes to nutrition, weight lifting and sleep habits might be "unconventional," said Barkley, but it will allow the new head coach to "maximize" the abilities of his athletes.
For as much as Barkley has learned, there are aspects of the job which he will have to learn on the go. The same can be said for all of the college students who are heading out into the work force after graduation. Barkley is smart enough to not make any guarantees regarding whether or not he'll win the starting job for the season opener on Monday, Sept. 9, but if he's given the midnight green light he will be well-versed enough in this offense where he can make decisions at the snap of a finger.
"I think knowledge really allows you to play fast as a quarterback and play at a high level. I don't think I've reached the point at all where I can make decisions like that because this offense is so new and there's so much to it that that's a process that will come," Barkley said.
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