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Versatility puts G.J. Kinne in position to succeed with Eagles

The former quarterback is now trying to make team as a wide receiver.

G.J. Kinne walks off the field after practice. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
G.J. Kinne walks off the field after practice. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

G.J. KINNE wants to play in the NFL. He's not concerned about the job description. He doesn't care if he's a quarterback, wide receiver, running back or nose tackle. He just wants to play.

Kinne has spent the better part of the last two seasons as a quarterback on the Eagles' practice squad. But even with an impressive 138.2 preseason passer rating the last two summers, he realized it would be next to impossible for him to make the Eagles' 53-man roster this summer strictly as a quarterback.

Which is why he decided to go to Chip Kelly at the end of last season and ask the Eagles coach if he could move to wide receiver, a position he hasn't played since his freshman year in high school, and then only for a week.

Kinne knows how much Kelly values versatility, knows how much he loves those "Swiss army knife" guys who can play more than one position, do more than one thing.

"That was the big thing," Kinne said. "I've been a quarterback. They know I can play quarterback. Now let's see if I can do something else, along with the ability to play quarterback.

"I told [Kelly], 'Hey, I've done it on the scout team for the past two years. I've done some receiver stuff, done some running back stuff.'

"I just want to get on the field and get more reps. I felt that was the best avenue to make the 53-man [roster]."

Kelly had a triple-threat player the last two seasons - Brad Smith. But Smith ended up being more hood ornament than useful weapon and wasn't re-signed. He played only 81 snaps in 19 games and had three receptions, two carries and one pass attempt. He also returned five kickoffs.

In March, Kelly gave Kinne the go-ahead to make the switch. He signed Tim Tebow to give the Eagles a fourth spring-summer arm and reassigned Kinne to wide receiver, with a little running back and special-teams flavor sprinkled in.

"The OTAs and minicamp have been a learning experience," Kinne said yesterday after the Eagles' final spring workout. "When we get to training camp, the learning will be over and it will be about production."

Six years ago, Kelly's good buddy, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, took a running quarterback out of Kent State by the name of Julian Edelman in the seventh round of the 2009 draft and switched the kid to wide receiver.

The move hasn't worked out too badly. Edelman had 197 receptions the last two seasons and caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the Patriots' Super Bowl win over Seattle 4 1/2 months ago.

Maybe Kinne will turn out to be Kelly's Julian Edelman, or maybe he won't. Either way, it won't hurt to find out.

So far, Kelly has been pleased by what he's seen from Kinne at wide receiver in the Eagles' spring noncontact work.

"He's done a really nice job," he said. "He obviously was a running/throwing quarterback coming out of college [Tulsa], so you knew he had that kind of athleticism. But one thing [you see] if you ask any of the coaches or even the players is how well he catches the ball.

"He's got really natural hands. He's a hands catcher. He plucks the ball. He's always catching the ball away from his body. He made an outstanding catch to finish training [Kelly's preferred word for practice] yesterday down the sideline on a back-shoulder throw that he opened up and caught."

The 6-1, 222-pound Kinne, who is a coach's son, certainly has the physical skills to play wide receiver and running back. He was the first player in Tulsa history to throw for 6,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards. He's a big target with decent speed (4.6). His quarterback background has helped him speed up the mental transition to wide receiver. And as Kelly pointed out, he has very good hands.

"I know what everybody is supposed to do on every play," he said. "It's just a matter of doing it. Setting defenders up. I've never had to do that. I just dropped back and threw the ball. But I'm learning.

"I switch up and go to different position meetings sometimes. I think all of the quarterbacks can tell you, when I run a route, I can feel the zone. I know what [the quarterback is] thinking, so I know where to go."

In six weeks, when the Eagles put the pads on at training camp, we'll find out some other important things about Kinne. Like how well he gets off the line of scrimmage against physical NFL cornerbacks and what kind of route-running skills he has.

"That's definitely going to be something I'm going to be working on once we get to camp," he said. "Time will only tell how well I'll be able to do it. I've never done it before. But I'm going to work my butt off, and I think those guys trust me."

Kelly's up-tempo practices have allowed Kinne to get a lot more repetitions this spring than he would get in a slower, more traditional offense. The same goes for training camp.

"That's why a lot of these young guys [on the Eagles], you see them make the team because we get so many reps," Kinne said. "[If] you go somewhere else, it's not like that. I've talked to guys and asked them why they signed here and they say, 'Because we're going to get more reps.'

"Same with me. I'm like an undrafted guy. I'm new to the position. I don't get as many reps as the top guys. The more I can get the better."

Said Kelly: "It will be interesting to see what happens with him in August, because we've used him a couple days here at running back [as well as wide receiver]. He's got some versatility. He's playing in a couple of different spots on special teams. So, we'll see how that versatility fits in terms of him getting [on] the 53[-man roster]."

Kinne knows it will be an uphill battle for him in training camp. With five of the six wide receiver spots already pretty much locked up - Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Miles Austin - he knows he'll have to flash.

"I know I'm a longshot," he said. "But I can't worry about that. I've got to come out here and practice and play hard. I just do what they tell me to do, and hopefully, it will all work out."

If it doesn't, well, maybe another team is out there looking for a "Swiss army knife."

On Twitter: @Pdomo