Eagles

For Matt Barkley, preseason a potential showcase

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For Matt Barkley, preseason a potential showcase

When he first arrived in Philly, brash former USC quarterback Matt Barkley conceded nothing to anyone about the starting job. Not Dennis Dixon, not Nick Foles, not even Mike Vick.

And when he came back to the NovaCare Complex this spring and took third-team reps behind Foles and Mark Sanchez, Barkley wasn’t willing to admit that he wasn’t in the picture to be Foles’ backup.

About two weeks into training camp, Barkley is seemingly echoing an alternate sentiment. He’s still confident, he’s still diligent, still steadfast in his belief that he can be a franchise quarterback in the league if given the opportunity.

It’s just probably not going to be here.

"I don't know what [the path] is yet. We'll see in a couple years what it is," he said after Wednesday’s walkthrough. "But obviously I do want to be a starting quarterback and play in the NFL. I definitely think I have learned a whole lot here and hope to learn a lot more. I don't know what the future will hold, but I'm excited for whatever it brings."

Sounds like a much different guy than the one who reported to training camp last year insisting that he hadn’t been ruled out in the race to be Chip Kelly’s first starter.

Barkley, who’s run exclusively with the third offense throughout camp, looks forward to Friday’s preseason opener against Chicago for different reasons than Foles. A good performance in the preseason is Barkley’s chance to have his work displayed for the 31 other teams.

He readily admitted that his preseason showcase is an audition for the rest of the NFL.

"I figure every chance you get to be on the field in front of an audience is a tryout of sorts,” he said, “whether it's for your own team, your own self or for another team. You have to prove that you're capable of playing in the NFL.

"I'm not going to be thinking of it as a test while it's happening -- I'm just going to be playing, having fun -- but when it comes down to it, that's what is going on."

Reality must have settled in some time in the past two weeks, when the coaches not only gave all second-team reps to Sanchez, a newcomer who basically bombed in his last two seasons with the Jets, but then split Barkley’s third-team reps with G.J. Kinne, the lowest man on the quarterback totem pole.

The Eagles traded up in the fourth round last year to draft Barkley. Kinne, a former Tulsa standout, signed as a rookie free agent and spent his first year on the practice squad. Even after some of Barkley’s most impressive practices -- and he’s had a few -- he never ascended the practice depth chart.

Now, it’s feasible -- although not probable -- that Barkley could end up being cut or traded as the Eagles move forward with Foles, Sanchez and Kinne.

“There are so many things that you don't have control of in this league,” Barkley said, “and so I feel like if you can just worry on how your passes are, how your mindset is going into a game and how your preparation is going, knowing your responsibilities and your reads, then everything will take care of itself.

“You don't know who's watching you on any given day. You don't know who’s talking behind closed doors or whatnot. So as long as I'm putting my best foot forward, showing them what I'm capable of …”

Barkley admitted that his short pro career so far hasn’t exactly mirrored the blueprint he had mapped out. But he’s been through an experience like this before, when USC coach Pete Carroll, the biggest reason for Barkley’s decision to play at USC, bolted for the Seahawks job after the quarterback’s freshman season.

“I remember thinking, ‘This wasn't supposed to happen.’ My plan was to play for him and he just took off,” Barkley said. “So that was kind of a young, rude awakening to the business of football. And I didn't take it personally. I got it then that it was a business move that was best for him. He was moving on and I was moving on.

“But I do remember that moment of knowing that you never know what's going to happen in the future. That second year, I learned a lot about leadership and I didn't expect it to happen but there were gains still from that year. Just like last year, I learned a whole lot about being a pro, protecting my body, recovery, all that stuff Chip emphasizes here. I didn't think that would necessarily happen last year, my rookie year, but I still learn from it.”

Film Review: Doug Pederson dials up a gutsy screen call vs. 'Boys

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Film Review: Doug Pederson dials up a gutsy screen call vs. 'Boys

The Eagles ended up scoring the final 30 points of Sunday's game in North Texas to crush the Cowboys 37-9. 

They didn't start off so hot though. 

In fact, the Eagles were down 9-7 at halftime, so when they got the ball back to start the second half, it was a pretty important drive. 

On first down, Jay Ajayi ran for 8 yards. On the next play, he went 1 yard. 

That set up a 3rd-and-1 and one of Doug Pederson's best and gutsiest play calls of the game. Out of an unusual look, the Eagles ran a screen play to Brent Celek that picked up 28 yards and helped them continue a scoring drive. 

"It was a great call," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Great feel and call from coach. We're meeting the night before. He and I always meet on Saturday night, the night before (the game) for an hour, hour and a half, just going through the call sheet, talking about what he's going to call, why he's going to call it. And we're bouncing things back and forth. 

"That was one I knew he was going to call. He was just waiting for the opportunity to call that play. Had a good sense."

Let's take a closer look at the play: 

Here's a look just before the snap. The Eagles are using a "tackle over" formation. You'll notice Lane Johnson is lined up inside Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Celek (circled) is lined up as the right tackle. 

The Eagles didn't motion into this look. They came out in it, with all three tight ends to the right side of the line. Trey Burton is lined up like a fullback. When the Cowboys see this, they load up that side of the defensive line, prepared for a run on 3rd-and-short. 

Carson Wentz takes the snap and begins to roll right for the play fake. Celek (still circled in red) engages and holds his block for a couple seconds. "Celek did a great job of selling it and good execution," Reich said. 

With the play going right, the Cowboys' linebackers are going with it. 

Here's the other angle just after Celek releases his block. The Cowboys' corner on the defensive right is blitzing, but with Wentz rolling right, he won't have enough time to get to him. 

Marcus Johnson, who was the outside receiver on the offensive left is running a go route, which will drive the safety out of the play. That leaves a ton of space open on that side of the field. 

 

It takes a perfect throw from Wentz and it wasn't easy to get off. Because of the blitzing corner, he needs to throw off his back foot and will need to loft the ball over the defensive end, who never gained an inch on Vaitai. 

 

At the point of the catch, Celek would have already had the first down. He has the ball for a short gain but rumbles ahead into open space for a 28-yarder, his longest catch of the last two seasons.  

This was a play the Eagles practiced during the week, but Reich said it looked just OK. According to Reich, those types of plays usually look better live in games than they do in practice. 

It certainly worked. 

"You want to hear defensive players swear," Chris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast, "that play probably does it more than any other."

Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

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Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

With Thanksgiving upon us and the rest of the holiday season just around the corner, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to reverse course from Rob’s Rants and express what I’m thankful for in Philadelphia sports. Truth be told, with the football team having the best record in the NFL and the basketball team having two dynamic, budding superstars and playoffs in their sights for the first time in a long time, things are pretty good around these parts. So let’s show a little gratitude.

Eagles
Where to start? Before this season, the hope was a playoff appearance. After 10 games, a division title, a bye and home-field advantage in the NFC are all real possibilities. This team is complete, laser-focused, well-coached and talented. Further, they have a second-year quarterback in Carson Wentz whose skill is only matched by his work ethic and football IQ. This city has always loved a tough defense and that’s exactly what they have. They are physical from the deep, defensive line to the surprising cornerbacks. The Saints, Vikings, Rams and Panthers are right there on the Eagles’ tail, so nothing is a given, but I just don’t see this team collapsing. I love that they can beat you in a multitude of ways whether it’s Wentz’s arm, a punishing running attack, a ferocious pass rush, or out-scheming the opposition. We are in for an amazing ride with this group.

Sixers
Ben Simmons has 11 double-doubles in his first 16 games in the NBA. That‘s the most by any player in that span of time in his first season since Shaquille O’Neal in 1993. His ability to finish with both hands is remarkable. If you never watched him shoot a jump shot or a free throw, you would have no idea he is left-handed. His size, power, handle and ambidextrousness mask his inability or willingness to pull the trigger from the outside. And by the looks of his stats and what the eyeball tells you, he’s doing just fine. Mr. Meat Pie is averaging 21.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and two steals a night. Then there’s the big fella. Joel Embiid is a once-in-a-generation talent, who by his own admission is not even in basketball shape yet. His Tinseltown two-step where he throttled both L.A. teams out there may have been the highlight of this short season thus far. But Embiid shows on a nightly basis that if he stays healthy, he’s capable of leading this teams to multiple championships. The Wells Fargo Center is back to the A.I. days of being the place to be for a basketball game. It’s electric.

Flyers
The Flyers' season has been very up and down. But there are certainly things to be thankful for when it comes to the orange and black. The first line of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, centered by Sean Couturier has accounted for 69 points through 20 games. Whether it was Dave Hakstol or Ron Hextall’s call, the decision to move Giroux to the wing and insert Couturier as the top-line centerman was a stroke of genius. Ivan Provorov deserves a plate full of kudos himself for his machine-like play.

Phillies
The Phillies' youthful core of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford and soon-to-be Scott Kingery has the makings of a nucleus to be proud of going forward. Aaron Nola showed himself capable as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. There’s much work to be done here but the club appears headed in the right direction.

College Hoops
Let’s give college hoops a little love as well. Villanova has dominated the headlines of late and rightfully so but there’s a possibility that at least three of the local teams will be dancing come April.
      
So pass the stuffing and enjoy the gravy, things are looking up in Philadelphia sports.