Kelly wisely lets QB situation play itself out

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
4:05
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly has declined two opportunities to dismiss the possibility Nick Foles could wrest the starting quarterback job away from the injured Michael Vick.

Kelly said Vick would start if his injured hamstring allowed him. But he also said Sunday there is always competition and that the best players will be on the field. On Monday, he was asked to clarify whether Vick would remain the starter no matter what Foles does.

“That’s not the case for anybody,” Kelly said. “If somebody comes in and puts on an unbelievable performance, you have to take it all into account. That was my point. If Nick plays this week and does an outstanding job, that will be great for everybody.”

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelWill Nick Foles be named the Eagles' permanent starting quarterback if he shines at Tampa Bay this Sunday?
What to make of Kelly’s approach? Maybe it’s best to consider the alternative.

Three years ago, Vick was the No. 2 quarterback here behind Kevin Kolb. When Kolb left the season opener with a concussion, Vick came in and played well. Head coach Andy Reid declared categorically that Kolb would remain the starter no matter what.

"Well, let me say it again,” Reid said when pressed. “I know I'm using poor English. Kevin Kolb is the No. 1 quarterback."

Reid reiterated that after Vick led the Eagles to a 35-32 victory in Detroit on Sept. 19. Reid re-reiterated that during his Monday news conference on Sept. 20. On Sept. 21, the Eagles called the media to a hastily arranged news conference to announce that Vick was now the No. 1 quarterback.

"At the time,” Reid said, “I told you what I believed. Obviously I'm not able to predict the future. … It's not my obligation to tell people my decision. It's my obligation to make the proper decision. That's why I took the time to do that."

Reid was hammered, not so much for going with Vick as for appearing to be dishonest or at least indecisive. Kelly is avoiding that here. His words boil down to this: Vick is the No. 1 quarterback right now based on performance. If Foles’ performance exceeds Vick’s performance, that could change. Pretty simple.

If Vick remained healthy, Foles would only get to showcase himself during practice. Kelly said Foles normally takes “15 to 20 percent” of the snaps during a normal practice session. Those practices are closed to the media. So it is only during games that Foles can make a public case for deserving the starting position.

He didn’t quite do that in his relief appearance Sunday against the Giants. Foles was fine, but the offense as a whole was inconsistent. On Foles’ first drive, the Eagles moved the ball quickly for a field goal just before halftime.

The third quarter was not nearly as convincing. The Eagles netted 21 yards on their first two possessions of the half. With Vick out, the running game bogged down. Foles missed a deep throw to DeSean Jackson and made two throws short of the first-down marker before the punt team came on. The third possession ended with a field goal, but 27 of the 57 yards on the drive came courtesy of a pass interference penalty.

“I think Nick was inconsistent at times where we could have delivered the ball,” Kelly said. “We should have had more plays.”

Foles threw for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter after the Eagles defense intercepted passes in Giants territory. That’s a positive -- Vick has been poor in the red zone -- but it also means Foles didn’t put together a long touchdown drive.

By the same token, Foles didn’t have the benefit of preparing all week with a game plan designed around him. That makes Sunday’s game in Tampa fascinating. Kelly went to the Meadowlands determined to use Vick’s legs as a weapon against the Giants. He will not be doing that against the Buccaneers.

Kelly’s game plan will reveal a lot about how he views Foles’ abilities. Foles’ execution of that game plan will reveal even more. If the offense is more dynamic with Foles, that will be obvious to everyone.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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