Barkley, Tebow Get One Last Chance
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's not exactly Ali-Frazier revisited but the perceived roster battle for the Eagles' third-team quarterback slot will headline the team's fourth and final preseason game in North Jersey against the New York Jets.
Perceived being the operative word in the prior sentence because it's hard to call this tussle a true competition.
In fact, the ultimate denouement will be more of a snapshot of Chip Kelly's thinking.
If the coach wants the better all-around quarterback than it's Barkley by a country mile. If he wants a specialized player who can give him in a leg up on two-point conversations than it's Tebow. Or, if Chip just wants to keep the best 53 players assembled at the NovaCare Complex starting Sunday, well then both players may be looking for jobs come Saturday.
(Listen to John McMullen discuss the Eagles roster battles)
The conventional thinking is that Kelly wants to trade Barkley to open up a roster spot for Tebow but that has become more difficult over the past two weeks because the former Southern California star has struggled since an impressive Week 1 preseason performance against Indianapolis.
That said, if nothing happens on the trade front it would be difficult for Kelly to get in front of the microphones and claim Tebow has been any better than Barkley because, despite constant talk of improvement, the mechanics are still poor for the former Hesiman Trophy winner, the decision-making slow and the throwing motion as elongated as ever.
"Our opinions aren't formed," Kelly claimed Tuesday. "It's one more time for a game opportunity. Obviously, I think especially with the quarterback position, practice is different just because they are wearing red jerseys. When they are not hit, when you get them out there in a game, it's another opportunity to get a legitimate evaluation of them. So there is a lot of weight in it."
So far Barkley has completed 23-of-43 passes for 306 yards in the preseason, while Tebow is 10-of-19 for 97 yards, along with an impressive 26-yard run off a zone-read against Baltimore.
"I think Matt can make all of the throws in this offense," Kelly said. "It's just about getting acclimated, decision making and he's done a really nice job of it. I think he's better now than when we first got him, and he's shown improvement in every year. I think he's really well versed in what we do. He’s got a big night again on Thursday night, but I know he's excited about playing in it."
“Personally, I do feel improved in a lot of different areas,” Barkley said after the team's short practice on Monday. “I feel like overall my arm strength is ... I’m not even thinking about throwing the ball, whereas in years past because of the pain of that (shoulder) injury (in college at USC), I was adjusting in certain areas. And then the offense, I wasn’t comfortable with it or was still trying to understand some of the concepts and everything. I feel comfortable now with where I’m at and what I need to do.”
What Barkley may need to do is play well enough in order to get out of Kelly's offense and in to one that better suits his strengths as a traditional pocket passer.
“It’s a little different scenario," Barkley said of his situation, "but my mindset hasn’t changed. It’s the same to compete as always, whether it’s against myself or someone else, to be the best player I can be.”
Tebow, meanwhile, is just thrilled to be in the conversation for the roster spot after being out of the league for an extended period.
“I intend to live one day at a time,” the popular signal caller said. “That means I’m going to finish today. I’m going to go try to go have an awesome walk through and just an awesome recovery session, and I’m going to worry about today. That’s something that I’ve just always tried to live by. That’s something that’s extremely biblical, and you’re going to have enough things to worry about in the future. Don’t worry about it right now, just worry about today.”
Thursday, however, is the bigger day for Tebow and his work ethic and leadership skills shouldn't be underestimated in Kelly's culture-based philosophy.
“You just come out here. You compete. You root for each other,” Tebow told Eagles.com. “You cheer each other on, and I think that’s something that comes from trying to care about people, also just from my faith. You’re competing for something, but at the same time you want to do it the right way and you want to treat others the way you want to be treated the entire time, no matter what’s on the line, no matter what’s at stake because opportunities or positions are never more important than character.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen