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Tuesday, August 20, 2013
What Kelly's quarterback decision means

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly will announce his starting quarterback Tuesday -- but only for Saturday night's preseason game in Jacksonville. Kelly has made it clear he will not decide, at least publicly, on the starter for the Eagles' regular-season opener at Washington Sept. 9.

Based on Kelly's actions so far, he will likely start Michael Vick over second-year quarterback Nick Foles. Presumably, Foles will then get roughly the same number of plays with the first-team offense.

Vick started the preseason opener against New England because, Kelly said, it was Vick's turn "in the rotation." Kelly then managed that rotation to make sure Foles' turn with the starters came in the second preseason game, against Carolina.

Most observers give Vick the edge in the quarterback competition so far. He has completed a stunning 86.7 percent of his passes (13-for-15) for 199 yards and one interception. Foles has not been far behind, completing 11-of-14 (78.6 percent) for 96 yards. Foles has turned the ball over twice, Vick just once.

NFL coaches typically like to have their starting lineups play together for more than a half in the third preseason game, then scale their action back to lessen injury risk in the final tune-up.

That would suggest that Kelly's choice for Saturday will provide a clue to his final decision. But the coach has maintained that he would use every possible opportunity to observe and evaluate Vick and Foles. The third preseason game may provide the most significant test of the summer. The Jaguars are likely to show more of Gus Bradley's defense, with more complicated coverages and blitzes, than the Patriots or Panthers showed in the first two weeks.

"It's always a possibility," Foles said Sunday. "In the third preseason games, teams like to do that. You always want to prepare for all the blitzes and understand what they've brought in the past, what their coaches brought in the past. You have to be ready for anything."

That is why starting Vick makes the most sense, especially if he is in the lead on Kelly's private scorecard. Over the past couple years, Vick has struggled mightily against exotic blitz packages. Seeing him against the Jags' starters early on, when they are most likely to mix in more complex defensive looks, would be vital to Kelly's evaluation process.

Foles also has to demonstrate that he can handle the blitz, but it has been more of an issue for Vick.

"Based on what I've seen," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, "when [Vick] knows what he's doing, he gets the ball out in a timely way and that's what I've seen."

And that's just it. Kelly has to see that Vick "knows what he's doing" in as many difficult situations as possible. That makes him likely to start Saturday. His performance in that game will likely decide whether he is the starter in Week 1.