RIGHT NOW, we really don't know who the quarterback of the 2013 Eagles will be.
That thought somehow forced its way through the sensory overload of the first Chip Kelly Eagles practice reporters were allowed to watch yesterday at NovaCare. (The other thought that arrived, almost concurrently: People actually listen to Nicki Minaj? I mean, if you autotuned Minnie Mouse . . . )
The hectic, no-huddle (ever!) pace and dance-party-volume music were certainly novel flourishes on the fields Andy Reid trod for so long in South Philly. But so was the realization that of the three main red-jerseyed contenders for the top QB job - Michael Vick, Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley - everyone is starting from ground zero in this offense, which indeed seems to feature a lot of read-option stuff. Maybe the $10 million the Eagles are paying Vick gives him an edge in the long run, as some of us have surmised, but it sure doesn't feel as if that's a lock. Foles and Barkley definitely think they can win the job. Dennis Dixon - who played under Kelly at Oregon and seemed smooth at interpreting the hand signals from the sideline and getting his guys lined up yesterday - and Tulsa rookie G.J. Kinne probably think that way, as well, though the Eagles don't have a lot of money or even a draft pick invested in either of them.
The antennae perked up a bit when Barkley arrived for rookie camp last week. The ex-USC star praised Vick and Foles, but he also announced that he was here to play, that he thought he could win the starting job. This is not what rookie quarterbacks say when arriving in a place that has an established veteran starter. (Look up the Kevin Kolb quotes from 2007, or last spring's dispatches from Foles.) Usually there's lots of "I know this is so-and-so's team. I'm just here to learn and to help any way I can." Yet, when Barkley got his marching orders from Kelly, they do not seem to have included any forelock-tugging.
"I would hope anybody that came into this place isn't sitting here and saying, 'I think I'm going to be a really good, solid backup.' I want guys to come in here and show us everything that they can do, and our job as a coaching staff is to put the best guys on the field the first game against Washington," Kelly said. "If that's Matt, that's Matt, so we'll see how that goes. But if anybody came in here and said they were really vying for a backup job, then they would probably be on the bus down 95 pretty quick."
Asked about Barkley's progress, Kelly said: "Matt has been really good. We've had him for 3 days. Really thought he picked things up quickly. He's an extremely hard worker. He's here every morning at 6 a.m. working at whatever there is to work on.
"I think he's got a great football background, first and foremost. He started 4 years in high school and 4 years in college, and that's kind of rare, so he's been through a lot. It showed up when he got here. He's got a lot of experience, even though he's a rookie. I've been real impressed with Matt in the 3 days now, going into the fourth day that we've had him."
Foles, drafted last year under Reid to be the QB of the future, finds his long-term prospects shadowed by the arrival of Barkley, a QB of pedigree, drafted by Kelly.
"When they drafted him, I was excited for this franchise," Foles said. "I've known Matt for a couple years, I've played against him . . . I've seen his leadership . . . you want competition, and he's definitely going to bring competition in."
Neither Foles nor Barkley seems ideally suited for the read-option, but though the Eagles worked exclusively out of the shotgun yesterday, they also ran quite a few conventional passing plays.
"The system will work for any quarterback on this team," Foles said.
Vick was asked yesterday how long he expects to split first-team snaps. (Kelly's rationale there is that the Eagles run so many more plays in a typical practice, there is no need to designate one guy to take the vast majority, as Reid did, to make sure his starter was ready.)
"I don't know," said Vick, the Eagles' starter the past three seasons, who turns 33 next month. "I just try to make the most out of each and every snap I get. Just try to be the best with my decision-making, and helping get guys lined up and making sure the offense moves smoothly when I'm out there."
This was just after Foles aired the thought that Kelly might not pick a starter until just before the season opener, nearly 4 months from now.
"In my mind, in my heart, I'm always going to feel like I'm a starter in this league, until the day I can't run anymore, I can't throw anymore," Vick said. "The mindset that you've got to have is that you're going to be the No. 1 guy . . . We're going to keep pushing each other hard, keep competing with ourselves."
Asked about Barkley's comments last week, Vick said: "I would say the same thing." Of course, Vick was the No. 1 overall pick for the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, not the first guy drafted in the fourth round. "Everybody will get their opportunities. We're excited about it."
At least from yesterday's glimpse, Kelly's offense seems very different from Reid's West Coast scheme. This can't be easy for anyone - the pace, the hand signals, the need for speedy dispatch of the ball.
"They don't expect us to get everything right, but they do expect us to learn from our mistakes," Vick said of Kelly, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. "As a player, you should make that first priority. I know I do. It's only a mistake if you make it twice. Something happens, you get coached on it, you've got to keep it moving, you watch the film and you get it right . . . We're so used to getting in the huddle, going back to talk to your coach or getting a coaching point. There's no time for that. We gotta go. That was my biggest thing [in the first practices], I was looking at coach Shurmur for a tip, or looking back at Chip to see if I did it the right way. But we've just gotta keep going. That's good, because that's what you've gotta do in a game."