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Foles Now Eyes Improved 2013

Andy Reid announced on Monday that the hand injury Nick Foles suffered in the first half of Sunday's loss to Washington was, in fact, more serious than an in-game X-ray could show. The injury, based on the MRI taken on Monday morning, was really a broken bone in his right hand and it's significant enough that Foles will not play in the 2012 finale at the Giants.

Exactly how Foles was injured is unknown, but the Eagles announced as the teams emerged from the locker room for the third quarter that Foles had been examined at halftime and that he would return for the second half against Washington. Reid said on Monday that he thought Foles was injured on the second-to-last play of the first half, which meant that Foles was somehow injured on a passing play.

Regardless of how it happened, the rookie quarterback showed extreme toughness, then, as he played through most of the game with a broken hand and if you want to know why, maybe, that late-game pass to Jeremy Maclin in the end zone didn't quite reach the intended target, Maclin, certainly the broken bone -- a hairline fracture of the second metacarpal (palm), which Reid said is a three-week injury -- in his right hand didn't help matters. Foles, truth be told, mentioned to some on the team after the game that his hand was numb as he led that final drive.

So you have to give the kid a thumbs up, two in fact, for playing through the pain and for playing as well as he did in the loss to Washington. Heck, why not give him a lot of praise for the seven games he played with a banged-up offensive line, minus some of the key offensive weapons, and with a team that was in the midst of a torrid losing streak.

For the season, his first of what should be many successful ones in the NFL, Foles completed 60.8 percent of his passes with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and Eagles rookie records in yardage (1,699), completions (161) and attempts (265). He was sacked 20 times, he ran 11 times for 42 yards and a score and he compiled a 79.1 passer rating in his time on the field.

There is, everyone would agree, a lot to work with here. Foles is a big man at 6 feet 6, and he's got the brain and the skills to make it at this level. There is a lot to work on for Foles, and the months ahead of development and improving his flaws are crucial to his future, but there is no question that Foles understands where he is in his "process" and that he knows he has to hunker down and fine tune his game and improve his mechanics and his timing and his awareness in and out of the pocket. He's still learning, like every other young quarterback.

It is patently unfair to judge Foles at this point. He is not the complete package as no first-year player in the NFL is the complete package. What we saw from Foles this season was mostly positive and there is nobody who can deny that he made great strides from the time he entered the game against Dallas on November 11 to the time he was penalized for an illegal forward pass to end the game against Washington with the Eagles 5 red-zone yards and a PAT away from overtime.

Once his hand heals, Foles will enter the most crucial months in his development. You've heard the saying, no doubt, that a player makes the most progress between year one and year two in the NFL, and that's the truth. Defenses are going to spend a lot of time breaking Foles down and exposing his flaws, so it's important that Foles and the coaching staff are realistic about his game, find those same flaws, and work to improve them.

I'm looking forward to seeing Foles in the spring and then in the summer to gauge how much progress he will have made. He's got to tighten up his delivery, improve his footwork, and just become a better all-around quarterback. We haven't had a drop-back quarterback here since, really, the Ron Jaworski days. In Foles, the Eagles have a young man who has plenty of skills with which to work and a player who wants to put in the time and be a great football player.

At the same time, the Eagles need to challenge the position. They can't put all of their hopes into Foles, just as teams don't put all of their hopes into any young player at any position. Trent Edwards is a steady, stable backup who has a great mentorship/friendship relationship with Foles. Vick? His case is more intricate, what with salary challenges and a history of injuries, and the thinking is that Vick wants to be a starter in the NFL. Do the Eagles pencil in Foles as the starter going into 2013?

All of that remains to be seen as the team answers a lot of questions following the last game of the season on Sunday. Who starts at quarterback against New York? Reid said there is a "pretty good chance" that Michael Vick will get the nod as the Eagles look to end the season on a high note.

Foles is done, though, and that's a shame. He is the future, although the Eagles are sure to challenge the position. In seven games, with six starts and one win, Foles acquitted himself professionally and promisingly. Now comes the really hard part, the most important stage: Using the offseason to improve flaws and advance toward the next stage of his career. Should Foles return to the starting lineup in 2013, he will be judged by wins and losses, and the expectations will jump.

He showed enough in 2012 to merit genuine excitement about his upside. Now Foles, once his hand is healed and he's ready to dig in mentally and physically, faces the challenge of being honest with himself and his weaknesses and taking his game to a new level.

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