One of the more hotly scrutinized position battles of training camp will be taking place in the City of Brotherly Love, where Michael Vick and Nick Foles will vie to be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
It's a battle that head coach Chip Kelly has been deliberately vague about, which has only added to the speculation.
However, at the end of the day there's only one question that really matters. Which quarterback gives the Eagles the best chance to put a disappointing 2012 season behind them?
That comes down to which passer is the better fit in Kelly's up-tempo, quick-read offense, and that in turn boils down to another question.
Can an old dog really learn new tricks?
It wasn't that long ago that Vick was the toast of the National Football League. Vilified (and rightly so) for his participation in a dogfighting operation, Vick rose from the ashes in Philadelphia, winning Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2010 after a season in which he threw a career-high 21 touchdown passes, ran for nine more and committed only nine turnovers.
Since then, it's been a different story.
Over the past two seasons, Vick has accounted for only 32 touchdowns while turning the ball over 33 times. His habit of making poor reads and bad decisions with the football has resurfaced with a vengeance.
It's those factors that could doom Vick's chances of winning the job. Vick's mobility and athleticism would be a big boost to Kelly's offense, which used quite a few read-option concepts while he was at the University of Oregon.
Even more important than scrambling ability for a quarterback in Kelly's offense, however, is that the quarterback surveys the field and gets rid of the ball quickly. It's the cornerstone of the "hurry-up" passing scheme that Kelly drove defensive coordinators crazy with in Eugene.
In fact, according to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kelly inferred that having a mobile quarterback in his offense is like having power windows on your car. They're nice, but hardly necessary.
If the fact they have the ability to run, I believe that's an added bonus, but that's not the precursor to what we do. We've said it since day one. I want the quarterback that has the ability to run. I do not want a running back that can throw. We've never been that type of offense, and I think that's a misconception.
The following play is an excellent example of the bubble screens that Kelly makes extensive use of in the passing game. It's not hard to imagine Vick scrambling a bit and then flipping the ball to DeSean Jackson, who could then use his speed to pick up yardage after the catch.
However, the zone reads and bubble screens won't work unless the quarterback reads the defense correctly and knows which players are blitzing and who is dropping into coverage. For all the things that Vick does well, reading defenses has never been one of them.
That brings us to Foles.
The second-year pro had his ups and downs as a rookie last year, but it's hard to hold a lot of his struggles against him. He was thrown to the proverbial wolves, a first-year passer behind an offensive line that completely imploded.
With that said, there have been numerous reports stating that Foles has outplayed Vick in OTAs and minicamps, displaying a better grasp of the offense and the sort of quick release that is going to appeal to Kelly in a big way.
Quick, accurate passes are more important to Kelly's offense than the ability to extend plays with your legs, and that's good for Foles. As Bleacher Report's Chris Roling pointed out last year with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Foles isn't going to be confused with Usain Bolt any time soon.
Okay, we get it...he's not fast. Stop bagging on the kid.
Frank believes that Foles is clearly the Eagles' best bet under center, writing that "In the next six weeks, Foles will show coaches, teammates and fans that any way you look at it, any way you measure it, he’s the best fit."
As ESPN (via Sheil Kapadia of Philadelphia Magazine) reports, however, there are still plenty of people in the Vick camp, including Jackson.
In my opinion, honestly, I don’t want to be put on the spot, I know y’all gonna do me like that, but Michael Vick’s got a lot of confidence in himself. He’s been there, going on 12 years in the NFL, I think he’ll get the job.
I will freely admit that until recently I also felt Vick was the guy for the job, that his ability to hurt teams with his legs would make Kelly's offense all the more explosive if Vick could get a handle on the scheme.
It's possible that could still happen, and if it does Vick will probably start. However, the leader of the Foles campaign (Frank) makes a point that just can't be ignored.
If he’s going to win the Eagles’ QB job this summer, Vick is not only going to have to prove he can still play at a high level—and he hasn’t exactly trended upward the last couple years—he’s also going to have to prove he can produce in a system that demands quick decisions, requires accurate mid-range throws and places a premium on ball security. And that’s just not his game. Never has been.
This certainly won't be the last said on the subject, and Kelly has made it clear that he's in no hurry to make a decision. However, unless the leopard changes his spots and Vick reinvents himself yet again, that decision may well be made for Kelly.
Because if it really is more important to fit the quarterback into the scheme than it is to wrap the scheme around the quarterback, then it looks like Nick Foles is the man for the job.