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Eagles QB coach has been there himself

Bill Musgrave, Joe Montana, and Steve Young used to have a contest that involved rolls of tape, goalposts, and killing time.

Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave during passing drills at practice Dec. 4, 2014 with quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Nick Foles. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave during passing drills at practice Dec. 4, 2014 with quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Nick Foles. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

Bill Musgrave, Joe Montana, and Steve Young used to have a contest that involved rolls of tape, goalposts, and killing time.

Quarterbacks are typically always up for a challenge, and this one had the three then-49ers competing to see who could toss the most rolls of tape into the hollow end of a goalpost.

"It was just something to do, little contests because we're very competitive, whether it be Ping-Pong; punt, pass, or kick; or quarterback Olympics," Musgrave said Thursday. "With quarterbacks, it's hard for us to sit still or have our minds at rest."

Musgrave, now the Eagles quarterbacks coach, played in only 12 NFL games over six years, but he understands the mind-set of those who play football's most important position at its highest level. They need constant stimulation.

There have been plenty of successful coaches who didn't play the position they helm or on the unit they coach, and Musgrave dismissed the value of his experience, but Mark Sanchez said that it has mattered.

"He's played the position, so it's not like a guy that doesn't understand why you make certain throws or why you do certain things," the Eagles quarterback said. "He understands how it's supposed to play out on paper, and he understands how it's supposed to play out in real life. He's just so even-keeled."

Bill Lazor, Musgrave's predecessor, probably wouldn't be described as such. He left in January to be the Dolphins' offensive coordinator, but as some sources around the league have said, he wasn't likely to be asked back, either. Lazor and Nick Foles didn't exactly see eye to eye.

Musgrave, who had been dismissed as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, was hired not long after Lazor left. It is his second stint in Philadelphia. He was an offensive assistant in 1998 on Ray Rhodes' staff after a failed attempt that summer to back up a Colts rookie by the name of Peyton Manning.

His NFL playing career placed him in close proximity to some of the greatest quarterbacks and coaches of the last 30 years. Musgrave was drafted out of Oregon in 1991 by Jimmie Johnson and the Cowboys and was initially coached by Norv Turner. When he failed to make the roster in Dallas, he landed in San Francisco as the third-string quarterback.

Musgrave initially backed up Young as Montana recovered from injury. Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan were his offensive coordinators from 1991 to '94, and then he followed Shanahan to Denver to back up John Elway with the Broncos.

"I use the lessons they taught me to this day," Musgrave said.

Sanchez, who came to the Eagles only two months after Musgrave was hired, said his coach is particularly effective at communicating the do's and don'ts of playing quarterback through language. Musgrave said he's just using the expressions his coaches - Bob Toledo at Oregon was one of the first - used on him.

"He'll say [about] looking downfield, 'You know, if you stare at something too long, those defenders, they get like moths to a light,' " Sanchez said. "He'll say something like that and you never forget: 'Ah, don't do that. Don't stare down receivers.' But he's got a hundred of them."

He's got stories, too. When the Eagles opened spring practices, Sanchez was coming off shoulder surgery after missing an entire season. He was understandably erratic. Aside from having to learn an entirely new system, Musgrave said, Sanchez struggled throwing with his surgically repaired arm.

Musgrave underwent shoulder surgery in 1996. He said he went through a period of feeling bad for himself until Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth snapped him out of it.

"He said, 'Well, knock that off right now. It's never going to be the same,' " Musgrave said.

He said he had a similar conversation with Sanchez.

"Whether it's Adrian Peterson's knee or Mark Sanchez's shoulder, you've got to find a way to be effective and functional with a newly constructed joint, and I think that was part of the process that Mark, like any athlete, has to go through," Musgrave said. "You have to come to that realization that it's never going to be the same, but I can be just as effective in a different manner, and maybe I can be even better."

By the end of spring workouts, Sanchez was more consistent, and when training camp opened a month and a half later, he was closer to the quarterback who has led the Eagles to a 3-1 record in four starts in place of the injured Foles.

"He didn't just dip his toe in, he dove in head first," Musgrave said of Sanchez. "He's here all the time. My office and the quarterback room serve as one, so he's always in there."

The Eagles went 5-2 in Foles' first seven starts, but he wasn't the same quarterback as he was last season, when he threw 27 touchdowns passes against only two interceptions. He had 13 turnovers in eight games. Musgrave said Foles made progress within coach Chip Kelly's system, whether it was his decision-making or increasing leadership.

But there were obvious mechanical problems. Foles was unnecessarily throwing off his back foot at times.

"Like most quarterbacks, he had his ups and his downs," Musgrave said. "Fortunately, a lot of his ups made up for his downs, and we won a lot of games. The bottom line was good, but I know there's always a challenge to eliminate those downs and learn from them at the same time. There were certain plays and certain games when you would want him to be more consistent."

Musgrave said he hasn't thought about becoming an offensive coordinator again. He was thrust into the job with the Eagles in Rhodes' doomed final season. He held the role with the Panthers, Jaguars, Falcons, and Vikings. He added to what he learned under his coaches to form his own lessons.

"He's always prepared," Sanchez said. "He's never like, 'Aw, what should we do now? We got an extra period of time.' He always has a drill, always has something to go over on film."

And he always has contests of skill, although he said the goalposts are too high these days to repeat the competition and success he had with Montana and Young.

"The goalposts would fill up by the end of the year," Musgrave said. "You could hear it as they came down."

So who was the best?

"Joe was," Musgrave said. "Tremendously accurate."

Inside the Game

- If either Mychal Kendricks or Casey Matthews had gotten hurt against the Cowboys last week, the injured Emmanuel Acho was the next inside linebacker up. Acho had been splitting snaps with Matthews, so his groin strain was obviously enough to keep him on the sideline.

But it wasn't enough to keep him behind a healthy Marcus Smith. Acho said it was partly because Smith can't yet set the defense when the Eagles are in their base personnel. Matthews and Acho have played the "Mike" spot in place of the out-for-the-season DeMeco Ryans. They make the calls.

Smith said he could handle the "Mike" responsibilities if called upon, but right now, the Eagles "let me make the calls in nickel or dime situations."

The Eagles' top draft pick, who has played only 68 snaps this season, said that calling the plays and lining up the defense has been the hardest thing to learn since moving from outside linebacker.

"When the coach gives us the call depending on the formation, you have to get the front set up, and then you have to tell the secondary what coverage we're in," Smith said. "It has to be all in one before the ball is snapped. Sometimes, if a motion occurs, you may have to switch the call and switch the coverage. That was the hardest thing for me at first, but now I can do it."

- It was a curious move having wide receiver Josh Huff run the ball near the end of the Cowboys game, but third-string running back Chris Polk had sprained his ankle and emergency running back Trey Burton had strained his hamstring, and coach Chip Kelly said he didn't want to put LeSean McCoy back into the game.

(But what about Darren Sproles?)

Nevertheless, Huff made the most of the chance and rushed straight ahead for 7 yards. The former high school tailback said he relished the opportunity.

"Everything felt amazing back there," Huff said. "Wish I could get back there more, but who knows? We'll see."

- Kicker Cody Parkey has been limited at practice the last two days, which begs the question: Who's the backup kicker?

It is not punter Donnie Jones. It will be either receiver Riley Cooper or safety Chris Maragos. For the first time this season, they practiced kicking on Thursday and the results were less than encouraging.

"Riley's [first attempt] was way, way left and he was up further," Maragos said. "I had a deep kick to start, but missed. I think I get the nod, but it's a pretty distant nod."

Maragos said it was the first time he's kicked since high school. He said he could hit 45-47-yarders then, and went 4-4 after practice, his longest coming from 40 yards out.

"And it was 4-5 yards deep," Maragos said.

Despite Maragos and Cooper's precautionary practice, Parkey said he would be ready for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.

Inside the Locker Room

- The day before Chip Kelly explained his contentment with being the Eagles coach amid rumors of an offer from the University of Florida - "Be where your feet are," he said - receiver Jordan Matthews tweeted out the same message Tuesday.

Kelly had brought Kevin Elko to the NovaCare Complex to speak to his team, and the motivational speaker used that phrase. It obviously resonated with both the coach and Matthews.

"He was basically saying, 'Be in the moment,'" Matthews said. "A lot of guys will always worry about the game, or you got guys like, 'I can't wait to get to the offseason.' At the end of the day, you got to be in your moment. You got to be at the point in your life where you are at and make the most of that situation."

- Quarterback Nick Foles may be out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, but he's still very much a part of the Eagles. He attends all practices and meetings and left a gift - Bose headphones with Bluetooth - in the locker stall of each of his teammates on Wednesday with the following note: "Keep playing hard and playing together as one! Hope you enjoy the great headphones. - Nick."

Q. What is your most treasured possession?

A. My ATVs. (He has three.)

Q. What is your greatest fear?

A. That somebody would push me in the water. (He can't swim.) I don't play around with water unless I'm taking a shower.

Q. Who wins a fight between a bear and a shark in five feet of water and why?

A. The bear. He would just ... claw that [shark] up and munch him up.

Q. If you could have lunch with any person, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

A. My grandmother [who died two years ago]. She meant so much to me. She was always there.

Q. If you could have any super power, what would it be?

A. I would like to be able to disappear. To be invisible.

57.5: Percentage of passes opposing quarterbacks have completed against the Eagles, which is lowest in the NFL.

66: Total number of 20-yard-plus (52) and 40-yard-plus pass plays (14) the Eagles defense has allowed this season. The Eagles are last in the NFL in both categories.

0: Dropped passes by Jeremy Maclin this season, per Pro Football Focus. He is the only wide receiver in the NFL with more than 66 targets who hasn't dropped a pass.