Kelly still playing coy on QB, or is he?

August, 17, 2013
8/17/13
6:55
PM ET
Chip KellyAP Photo/Michael PerezChip Kelly has made it difficult to read the tea leaves as to who will be the Eagles' top quarterback.

PHILADELPHIA -- It has been entertaining, if not enlightening, to watch Chip Kelly interact with the media on the subject of his starting quarterback.

Anyone hoping the Philadelphia Eagles' coach would make some kind of announcement after Saturday’s public practice in Lincoln Financial Field was doubly disappointed. Not only did Kelly not say who would start at Washington on Sept. 9, he wouldn’t even reveal whether Michael Vick or Nick Foles will start next weekend’s preseason game at Jacksonville.

“As a staff on Monday – the players are off – but we’ll be in and kind of put together our thoughts on how we’re going to attack” plans for the week, Kelly said. “Those decisions in terms of rotations and things like that will be made Monday.”

Vick started the preseason opener against New England. Foles started against Carolina Thursday night. Kelly said he simply kept the QBs in their rotation for starting off with the first team.

Several theories have developed to explain Kelly’s handling of his QB situation.

Theory One: He knows and he’s just messing with everyone.

There is some supporting evidence here. Kelly sees a distinct competitive advantage in secrecy and misdirection. Beginning Sunday, his practices will be closed to the media – even though a few will be open to 300 invited guests as part of the team’s training camp move to their training complex.

Eventually, everyone in the NFL will know who the Eagles’ starting QB is. He’ll only have this opportunity to spring a last-minute surprise once, so why not use it?

On the other hand, the men most affected by such trickery would be Vick, Foles and their teammates. Unless everyone on the roster deserves an Oscar nomination, the players truly have no clue how all this is going to end. They may sense that Vick has the edge – his resume and his performance so far this summer support that idea – but they can’t be sure what’s going on under Kelly’s visor.

Theory Two: Kelly honestly doesn’t know and he’s just letting Vick and Foles make the decision for him.

There was a telling moment Saturday. A reporter started a question by saying, "I know you don’t want to name a starting quarterback right now—"

Kelly cut him off.

“I would love to name a quarterback now,” he said.

If he’d inherited a team with Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers on the roster, none of this would be happening. Vick and Foles both started games last year. Both played behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. Both earned a full share in the Eagles’ 4-12 record. Both have skills, but both are flawed.

There is no gimme here.

So why not use every last practice and all four preseason games, a luxury he didn’t have at Oregon, to evaluate Vick and Foles in different situations? As sharp as Vick has looked, he hasn’t yet faced the complex coverages and blitzes that opponents have deployed to frustrate him over the past few seasons.

“I think we are going through the process,” Kelly said. “We know we have got a little bit of time here, so we'll go through the process and look at how it's going to express itself, get back, watch the tape today, put a lot of new situations in today, put it in today, see how they handle that.”

Theory Three: Matt Barkley is a stalking horse, the real starter, and this has all been sleight-of-hand.

This theory has been retired after two preseason games. Barkley’s NFL future remains unwritten, but there has been an enormous gap between his level of play and that of Vick and Foles.

Theory Four: Kelly is developing Vick and Foles along parallel tracks.

This intriguing twist comes from ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio. Kelly figures he’ll wind up needing Vick and Foles during the upcoming season, so he’s treating them both as No. 1 QBs in every way.

The usual approach – giving the presumed starter the vast majority of reps with the first team – would create a learning curve for the backup if and when he has to step in due to injury or performance. Doing it this way keeps both QBs engaged and forces both to prepare as if they’re the guy.

One aspect of Paolantonio’s theory is that it doesn’t preclude either of the first two. Whether Kelly knows or not, the parallel-track approach would have its benefits.

The downside risk is that one of them is going to wind up feeling demoted and disappointed right as the season begins. It might take a little while for him to bounce back.

Some notes and observations from practice:

  • Kelly had the team working on specific situations: time running out while needing a touchdown, for instance. He said the Eagles will do more of that Sunday. The players are off Monday. With the Jacksonville game Saturday night, Kelly said he and his staff would try to simulate a normal regular-season week.
  • Left tackle Jason Peters, long snapper Jon Dorenbos and running back Bryce Brown were back on the field after missing time with injuries. Peters’ absence gave Allen Barbre an opportunity that he seized. Kelly praised Barbre’s play at tackle in both preseason games, and it sounds like the veteran is likely to make the final roster. “Allen, to us, has really solidified his situation with us from a depth standpoint,” Kelly said. “We knew he could play guard, but now to have a guy that's a guard-tackle guy, and I think sometimes you've got seven guys active on game day, you're going to have to have somebody that's got some versatility and I think that's what we've learned from him.”
  • The Eagles signed defensive end Eddie McClam, who was in camp with Detroit last year. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound McClam played at Old Dominion.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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