Chip Kelly has been barraged with questions ever since he was hired as coach of the Eagles and he’s certainly been more loquacious that his predecessor, Andy Reid, ever was. But Kelly still hasn’t told us what we want to know most of all, he still hasn’t answered the only question that really matters – who will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2013?
Kelly says he hasn’t answered that question because he doesn’t know the answer. He says the quarterback position is still an open competition between Michael Vick, Nick Foles and even rookie Matt Barkley.
“Everybody gets a chance, and everybody has an opportunity to show us what their resume is, and your resume is what you put on tape every day,’’ Kelly said. “If somebody continues to make plays and someone doesn’t make plays, that guy is going to move up and the other one’s going to move down. Our depth chart is written in sand right now.”
And that is very, very rare in the NFL. Quarterbacks sometimes lose their jobs in the middle of the season – the San Francisco 49ers’ were the perfect example of that last season, when Alex Smith was supplanted by Colin Kaepernick – but teams almost always have their starting QB set by the time training camp opens. NFL coaches don’t like controversies in general and they absolutely hate quarterback controversies, because they dominate headlines and television and radio talk shows.
In fact, the last time the Eagles went into a season unsure of their starting quarterback was way back in 1986, Buddy Ryan’s first year as coach. Long-time starter Ron Jaworski was at the end of his career and Ryan brought in Matt Cavanaugh from the 49ers to compete with him, as well as a raw, second-year QB from Nevada Las-Vegas, Randall Cunningham.
Ryan wanted Cavanaugh to win the starting job – he didn’t have a very high opinion of Jaworski and he wanted his own guy as the starter – but Jaworski played well in the preseason and Cavanaugh didn’t and Jaws won the job, although he would eventually lose it to Cunningham, just as he did the season before when Cunningham was a rookie and Marion Campbell was in his final season as coach.
Ever since then, there was a known starter going into camp. Cunningham held onto the position for the next nine years, although he did lose his job a couple of times because of injury (1991) and ineffectivenss (1993 and 1995). The Eagles were on a merry-go-round (although it wasn’t very merry) at quarterback through much of the 1990s, with journeymen like Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer, Bubby Brister, Bobby Hoying and Doug Pederson taking most of the snaps, but they always went into training camp with a No. 1 QB.
Chip Kelly has taken a different approach and we have to assume he really isn’t sure and isn’t playing some kind of mind game to motivate his quarterbacks. He has to know the positives and negatives of all three QBs by now and he must have at least an idea of which one he thinks will be his starter. Perhaps it’s just a matter of waiting to see which one adapts the best to his offense, even though nobody except Kelly and his staff seem to know what that is right now.
Because the way training camps are run now in the NFL – little contact overall and absolutely no pressure on the quarterback – Kelly might have to wait until the preseason to make his decisions It’s one thing to play well during a no-contact drill in camp and it’s another to do it when players from other teams are trying to hit you and hit you hard. Everything moves faster and hits harder and even though they’re not real games, they’re as close as they’ll come before the regular season starts.
If nothing else, the preseason games could actually be worth watching this year, and when was the last time you could say that?
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.