Michael Vick is the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s just get that one out of the way right now.
No. 7 has earned that role with stellar, dependable play no one could have expected when the Eagles signed him in 2009.
However, as his inability to stay on the field has been displayed in each of the Eagles’ preseason games thus far, is he their best option should they wish to play a competitive, consistent brand of football this season?
When healthy, there is no question that Vick is the top quarterback on the team. He is the leader of the offense, a vastly improved passer and an athletic nightmare for opposing defenses trying to take him down.
Unfortunately, that athletic ability, which enables him to scramble in and out of the pocket better than any quarterback before him, is also his greatest flaw. It creates opportunities for punishing hits met with greater force because of the speed at which he is traveling, often resulting in rib injuries much like the one he suffered in Monday night’s matchup with the New England Patriots.
Last season, such injuries forced Vick to miss three starts and time in a handful of other games for the Eagles. As a result, the touted “Dream Team” collapsed and missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Could that happen again?
The Eagles are stacked with talent, but one blow to the quarterback could derail their hopes of competing in the NFC East and returning to the postseason. Sadly, history says this is very likely to happen.
Once thought to be the third-stringer entering the preseason, rookie Nick Foles has garnered a lot of attention with his outstanding play in each of the Eagles’ exhibitions. The murmurs in Philadelphia have begun and yes, the Eagles have found their new favorite backup quarterback. For now, that is all he is.
Foles has shown great poise, arm strength and accuracy with an ability to lead the offense—whether that has been with the first or second offense. He leads the NFL with a 118.4 passer rating, has tallied four beautifully thrown touchdown passes, just one interception and has yet to be sacked. He has shown a need for improvement, naturally, but is it irrational to think that maybe, just maybe, the rookie from Arizona might be a safer, if not better, option at quarterback for the Eagles in 2012?
Long term, this guy appears to be it. He has the size, football I.Q. and potential to blossom into the next great Eagles quarterback. Prior to the preseason, it also appeared that he had plenty of time to develop and seize his opportunity. Being forced into the starting role sooner will not send Foles off course, however.
“The game is going to keep getting faster and faster, and I’m going to have to keep studying harder and harder,” Foles said at training camp two weeks ago. “If I had to go in, I could. That’s my job here. If I’m in that position, I gotta be ready. You can’t get complacent.”
But perhaps the most important factor, for this season at least, is his ability to stay on the field.
Foles spent his entire collegiate career healthy and there is nothing about his play that indicates he is at risk in the same manner that Vick is. Foles stands tall in the pocket and has only been hit scarcely thus far in preseason.
He appears to have a solid understanding of the Eagles offense and will only improve with time. In each of his preseason performances, Foles has been impressive with accuracy to all parts of the field.
Is he a better quarterback than Michael Vick? At this time, it would be foolish to say anything other than no, absolutely not. But the Eagles need a capable leader and presence behind center and Vick presents nothing more than uncertainty from week to week.
The Eagles do not need a game-changing enigma running their offense when they have playmakers at every skill position on the offensive side of the football. A simple, consistent passing game should be enough with LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis carrying the football, and a stout defense playing quality ball against opposing offenses.
The rookie may be unable to perform at a level such as Vick, but his presence would deliver the Eagles with a sense of continuity in the huddle and little to fear on each play of a game. The Eagles’ failure when they lost Vick is a very evident example of that.
Or Foles could turn out to be another heralded backup quarterback in Philadelphia, worshipped for not being the guy who failed to get the Eagles to the Promised Land once again. He could just be another preseason warrior and beloved clipboard holder in the same vein as guys like A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia and Kevin Kolb—and we have all seen how they panned out, right?
This is the preseason after all. His performances have come against a second-team Pittsburgh Steelers defense and numerous subs for the New England Patriots. That shouldn’t be a knock on his play entirely—he has been impressive—but plenty of players, quarterbacks especially, have had big preseasons only to fall on their face when you look back on their NFL careers.
For now, Foles will continue to strive as the Eagles backup while Vick prepares for another season at the helm for Philadelphia. On Friday night, Foles will get another opportunity to showcase his abilities against the Cleveland Browns on the road—the Browns finished second in pass defense last season.
It is quite likely Foles will see his chance in a starting role during the regular season. That is when Foles will have his opportunities to either silence those fans’ murmurs or potentially force his way into the conversation for the starting quarterback position in Philadelphia.