PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles is Chip Kelly’s quarterback after all.
That’s how it looks as the Philadelphia Eagles conduct their first full-squad, padded practices of the 2014 season. A year ago, when Kelly was bringing his Oregon offense and his uptempo approach into the NFL, Foles looked like the odd man out.
No hard feelings, kid. Just the wrong skill set for the new way of doing things.
And sure enough, Michael Vick was named starting quarterback midway through training camp. Foles was an afterthought -- until Vick pulled a hamstring early in the season and Kelly had to turn to the tall, less-than-mobile backup. Foles claimed the job with his performance, leading the Eagles to the NFC East title.
But then came the offseason, when Kelly would get several chances to add a quarterback who fits the profile a little better. Free agency? The Eagles signed Mark Sanchez, who was released by the New York Jets, to be Foles’ backup. The draft? Over the course of three days, the Eagles made trades, adding picks and prospects, but none of them played quarterback.
When the team took the field for the third day of practices Thursday, Foles was the first quarterback out there.
“The great thing about Nick, and what you love about him, he knows he’s never going to arrive,” Kelly said. “It’s a great trait to have. Some guys get to where they’ve won a job and they kick their feet up and go on cruise control. That’s not him.”
Kelly showed just how little time he’ll waste before he makes changes. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson put up great numbers in 2013, but he didn’t fit the culture Kelly was trying to instill here. Jackson was unceremoniously released in March.
Foles endured. He is now the senior guy in the Eagles’ quarterback meetings. Even the coach, Bill Musgrave, is new. Musgrave replaced Bill Lazor, who was hired to be the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.
Sanchez replaces Vick as the veteran backup. Matt Barkley, who played in a couple of games as a rookie last year, is still likely the No. 3 guy. G.J. Kinne is back for his second summer as the No. 4 QB.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Barkley said. “I just trusted the coaches, figured they knew what was best for the team. I don’t have a say in it, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Sanchez hosted Barkley when he was a high school player visiting Southern Cal.
“We’ve crossed paths many times,” Barkley said. “I’ve known him for quite a while now.”
Sanchez took the Jets to two consecutive AFC title games. By last season, he was dealing with a shoulder injury and being replaced by Geno Smith. The Jets released him and, just to keep the circle unbroken, signed Vick to compete with and back up Smith.
“I was ready to get to a new place after I was released,” Sanchez said. “This looked like the best opportunity to come in, to play as hard as I can and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Sanchez has slid into the backup role without a word of complaint. He knew Barkley and Kinne, who was in the Jets’ camp in 2012.
“Getting to know Nick, he’s one of the best guys I’ve been around,” Sanchez said. “Strong Christian guy. Loves football. Loves his teammates. Great player to play with. I’m excited to come out and compete. I love the system.”
Kelly juggled Vick and Foles last year without allowing a controversy to develop. He doesn’t see much chance of trouble from this group.
Foles had not earned the untouchable status of Rodgers, Manning and Brady. But Foles did throw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions while going 8-2 as a starter.
“You reflect for, like, five seconds and then you move on,” Foles said. “That season is not going to help me for this year. When I look back on seasons, I always look at the guys I do it with. I don’t remember the score or the stats from any games. I just remember winning the game with those guys.”
As important as the season was for him, though, the offseason was maybe even more so. Being named MVP of the Pro Bowl was nice. Holding his job through free agency and the draft was better.
“He’s more comfortable,” Kelly said. “I think you can sense that when you see him out there on the field.”
There are four quarterbacks in the meeting room. There’s only one running the first-team offense. That’s Kelly’s quarterback. That’s Foles.
“Chip’s cool,” Foles said. “He’s a fun coach to play for. You just continue to grow. I’ve got to keep getting better. If I don’t play well, it’s the NFL. I’ll be gone. I know that. That’s why last year’s stats don’t mean anything. The most important thing is for the team to be successful. To do that, the quarterback has to be sharp.”