Training camps and preseasons are the de facto regular seasons for quarterbacks not positioned to be starters, at least at that point in their career or teams’ situations. What they show in those snapshots can let them keep a roster spot where they are, or land them somewhere else if they’ve managed to show something.
For Matt Barkley, an accidental starter for the Bears now because of an almost eerie string of quarterback injuries (Connor Shaw, Brian Hoyer, now Jay Cutler), his moment is at hand.
Barkley, once a promising quarterback prospect coming out of USC and landing with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 draft, has never started an NFL game. He has only played in five in four years, and didn’t play at all in 2015.
Now he has a chance to start as many as six games, with Cutler down with a shoulder injury. Barkley is playing for nothing less than his career, whether it continues with the Bears next season when they presumably bring in a young successor to Cutler, or somewhere else.
“When you look at it, what reality means in my shoes, yeah, big things could be ahead,” Barkley said this week. “I don't want to blow this up out of proportion and look back and say woulda, coulda, shoulda and all that stuff.
“If I just make the most, give my all right now for this week, this one week, and then move on to the next week right after that, that's how I'm approaching this.”
The unfortunate thing for Barkley is that he steps into an offense missing its two starting wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White), starting tight end (Zach Miller) and as many as three starting offensive linemen.
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Evaluating Barkley won’t be particularly easy. Then again, if he builds something with the tools at hand… .
“In the NFL as a backup quarterback, you don’t get a lot of work with the first team, obviously, because the starter’s taking those reps,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “So we pay attention to how he does in scout team, and try to find out his strengths and weaknesses that way.
“The challenge is, you don’t get him in training camp, you don’t have him in OTAs, so the foundation of the system, they don’t have. Matt understands the game plan this week, his preparation – he’s a pro — but there are some things that he’s rep’ing for the first time this week. Practice has been a challenge that way, to see what he’s comfortable with, and really try to find out what he does well and how we can put him in a situation to succeed.”
Backups have made epic splashes and parlayed those moments into a meaningful NFL future: Matt Cassel, New England; Tom Brady, New England; Dak Prescott, Dallas; Matt Flynn, Green Bay, to name a few.
Barkley had a surprise “moment” when Hoyer was injured in Green Bay and Barkley needed to play the second half. It wasn’t pretty; 6-for-16 passing, 2 interceptions.
But at that moment, he did make a positive impression.
“One thing that stands out for Matt is poise,” Loggains said. “Even when he had to play when he came in the Green Bay game, he hadn’t had one practice rep with our offense outside of scout team. He did a really good job. hHe’s poised in the pocket. We’re excited to see what he’s like when he gets a full week of preparation. And trying to adjust the scheme to fit him.”