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Fascination Of The QB Derby

Head coach Chip Kelly has five quarterbacks on the current roster and he is taking a long look at each one of them. It's fair to say, of course, that the attention the media and fans are spending watching and talking about Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley is greater than the time spent analyzing Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne, but Dixon and Kinne are here for a reason, and Kelly is making sure each get enough training reps to be properly evaluated.

It has been a long time since we had a genuine quarterback derby in Philadelphia -- Randall Cunningham vs. Jim McMahon in the 1980s? Ty Detmer vs. Bobby Hoying in the 1990s? There has been no favorite for the starting job announced by Kelly, and his contention is that the job is an open competition, as is every position on the field.

But this is exciting stuff. The reporters who watch practice when it is open to the media sit in the bleachers at the NovaCare Complex and whisper to one another after a good throw, "Good spot for Barkley," and "Nobody throws a better deep ball than Vick," and "Foles really looks confident out there."


The truth is, our exposure to practice is limited, so to grade a player based on a glimpse of the entire body of work would be inaccurate. We'll go by Kelly on this: The quarterback position is wide open and the Eagles are in no hurry to rush to judgment.

Who will win the starting job? What does the gut instinct say? These are the questions fans ask the most right now. I'm going to let it play out and enjoy the competition.

Clearly, each of the top quarterback candidates -- Vick, Foles, Barkley and Dixon -- brings his own skill set to the table. Vick is the strong-armed veteran who has the most athletic ability and speed of the three. In what appears to be a spread-concept offense in many respects, Vick's strengths play to the style that Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur may install when the offense is complete. Vick is a threat to run the football, and that ability keeps defenses honest. He can improvise and make every thrown in the book, and we all know that.

The questions about Vick through his career and particularly in the last two seasons are the turnovers, his inconsistency staying healthy and a general lack of scoring punch from the offense. It is not all attributable to Vick, for sure, and that's why Kelly and the Eagles signed Vick in the offseason to see if they can maximize his talents in this offensive scheme.

Foles is in his second season here after a promising rookie campaign. He offers a lot of good things -- big body, intelligence, leadership and poise. Foles is actually more athletic than most quarterbacks who are 6 feet 6, and he works his feet well in the pocket. The sample is small on Foles from last year, and while there is a lot to build upon, he also needs to work on his mechanics and gain experience and consistency. The question, from beyond the coaching staff, is whether this system is right for Foles. That's why watching him in practice is so interesting.

Barkley is in the developmental stage and it is very difficult to get a grasp on where he is mentally with the scheme. From this perspective, Barkley looks like he knows the X's and O's and that his arm strength is fine and that his accuracy is right on. He is, remember, in the infancy stages of his career and his progress must be measured in spoonfuls, not gulps.

Dixon has the most experience with Kelly and the head coach's offensive thinking, and there is an advantage to that time spent at Oregon. This scheme no doubt has its differences from what Dixon ran with the Ducks, but it also has a familiarity born from the games in college.

Kelly is building reps from these Organized Team Activities to use in the overall evaluation of the position. The grading curve is likely to get more intense when training camp starts, and then ramp up for the preseason games. It may not be until that time, until well into the preseason schedule, that Kelly decides on who he wants to be the starter at the most important position on the field.

Whoever wins the job is going to have to earn it on days like these -- hot, muggy and without much glory -- in the classroom, in the locker room and on the field. I couldn't tell you who is tracking better among the group, or what the completion percentage in practice is or who has the fewest mental mistakes or even who has taken the most reps as a starter.

All I know is that this is a true quarterback competition and that Kelly is making his decision based on what he sees every day, not on any preconceptions he has about the players. The system is friendly to the quarterback with its fast tempo and quick decisions that need to be made. A premium is placed, said Kelly, on "repetitive accuracy."

The bottom line, then, to the question asked every day, many times each day, is that I don't know who is going to win the quarterback job. Kelly doesn't know that yet, either, and neither do the players. What we're watching is a group of players with their eyes on the job and their focus on improving every day. If competition brings out the best in players, then we're going to see the best of Vick, of Foles, of Barkley, Dixon and of Kinne. The best man is going to play outstanding football to win the job, and the Eagles offense will benefit because of the quarterback derby, the first we've seen around here in a long, long time.

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