Chip Kelly came to the NFL from the University of Oregon as something of a football innovator.
Kelly has always prided himself on finding any possible edge to make his team better, even if a new idea or innovation flips the NFL paradigm on its head. In one offseason, Kelly has changed the entire Eagles training camp process, from location to nutrition to the music to the pace in which the team practices and plays.
If everything in Kelly's NFL seems different, why shouldn't that pertain to the quarterback situation as well?
Everyone—from Eagles fans to the players to even the media—has been patient while Kelly evaluates his quarterbacks to determine the best player to lead the Eagles into his first NFL season.
Every single day since preseason minicamps, fans have waited to hear who Kelly will name as the starter between veteran incumbent Michael Vick and second-year challenger Nick Foles. Can it be both? Perhaps the better question is, why can't it be both?
Foles told reporters at practice on Sunday that it's not his call after being asked about the quarterbacks situation for the 11 millionth time this preseason, per CSN Philly:
Whenever Chip decides," "Mike and I have a great friendship. We're working—we're working to make the Philadelphia Eagles better, we're working to make all these players around us better, so we have a really good thing going, we just need to keep pushing it.
Why does Kelly have to choose? Why can't he alternate both quarterbacks, not just in the preseason, but during the regular season as well?
This is a serious question, and while I'm sure plenty of old-school readers will see this suggestion and write it off as the ramblings of someone who "doesn't know anything about football," the decision to choose which player will start at quarterback seems like the perfect situation for Kelly to flex his innovative football muscles.
Why does everything have to fit the same pattern? If Kelly is changing the way the NFL does things, why does his most important decision have to fall in line with the way it's always been done?
If the goal of an NFL training camp is to determine the best 53 players for a team and the top 25 or so starters on offense, defense and special teams, why is it in a team's best interest to spend two months trying to figure out which quarterback is a better choice to be the starter and then immediately bench the other guy without giving him any live game action?
The quarterback is the most important position on the team, and no NFL innovations will change that fact. So why is that the only position, other than offensive line, where the backup only plays when the starter gets hurt or is horribly ineffective is at QB?
Cohesion? Let's put aside the tired old excuse that a starter needs time with his receivers to get on the same page. NFL starters get plenty of reps with one another, and for years, reporters, fans and reasonably minded observers have decried the lack of snaps for backup quarterbacks during the season.
Usually, it's important to give the backup reps in case the starter gets hurt, but why can't a system work where the backup gets reps in practices that can then translate to the game? Eagles center Jason Kelce wondered the same thing on Sunday, according to CSN Philly:
I think they are both very comfortable with the offense. They've obviously both had enough reps with the 1's to where all the people on the 1's are used to them being out there.
In this particular instance, I'm with the head coach. We have two more weeks to decide this thing, why rush into a decision and make one when you don't think you're fully ready to make that decision?
If the Eagles offense understands the importance of not rushing the decision, why do they have to limit the deadline to just two weeks? If both quarterbacks have shown they are worthy of playing time in Kelly's system, the reasonable move would be to give them both snaps in regular-season games.
Just because it hasn't worked in the NFL doesn't mean it can't or won't in the future.
For years, teams in the NFL relied on a system with only one running back and with the backup running back only coming in to spell the starter or handle specific third-down packages as a pass-catching or blocking specialist.
Somewhere in the last decade or two—thank Mike Shanahan, perhaps—coaches got smart and started splitting reps between running backs during every game, thereby prolonging the health of the feature back while giving the defense two unique looks out of the backfield.
If an offensive line is versatile enough to seamlessly block for two completely different running backs in size and style, why couldn't a line also block for two different quarterbacks?
While it is important for quarterbacks and receivers to be on the same page, has it been proven that having a different quarterback throw would negatively impact his receivers' ability to catch the ball?
Again, Kelly has already changed so much about the Eagles in his short time in the NFL, so getting the receivers on the same page with two different quarterbacks seems right in line with his thinking.
This wouldn't work everywhere. In many cases, when a starting quarterback comes out of the game, there is a noticeable drop-off in talent at the position. Of course, going from Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers to a guy sitting in the third row would certainly impact the receivers.
What if the quarterbacks were of a similar, nearly indeterminable level of skill? Would a little extra zip on one pass or the ball spinning one way off Vick's left-handed throw as opposed to Foles' right-handed delivery really make a difference to a receiver running a route, especially if the receivers have been preparing all preseason for both styles of throws?
In last year's season finale, Vick started after coming back from injury to go 19-of-35 for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He targeted seven different receivers, none more than Jeremy Maclin, who had the ball thrown his way nine times (four catches).
The previous week, Foles was 16-of-33 for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Foles threw to eight different receivers. Maclin was targeted nine times (four catches).
The biggest difference in the two games? A lot more of Vick's throws were short left, while Foles threw more short right, essentially flipping the formation based on which hand the quarterback uses to throw the football.
Certainly, in a freewheeling offense where receivers and quarterbacks are allowed to make checks based on what the defense gives them, cohesion is important at the line of scrimmage and after the snap.
Still, that can't be enough to preclude a team that has two viable (and comparatively unspectacular) options at quarterback from trying to work out a system where both get time on the field. The benefits outweigh any potential negative.
Vick has been extremely injury-prone in his Eagles career. Since his second season in Philadelphia when he became the primary option at quarterback (despite a clamor when he got the job for some to go with Kevin Kolb at starter), Vick has played in 35 of 48 regular-season games.
Over three years, Vick has nearly missed an entire season on the field. Limiting his reps during the games could serve to protect him physically, giving him a chance to play in every game this season.
If Vick were to get hurt at some point this season while platooning at quarterback with Foles, the second-year signal-caller would be more prepared to take over the entire offense than coming out of the cold with little time to prepare during the season.
Hopefully, Kelly will keep Foles in the practice rotation anyway if he doesn't win the starting job, but it just doesn't make sense why using both guys in a game would prove to be a bad idea—other than "it hasn't been done before."
By naming two quarterbacks each week, defenses will have to plan for both a lefty and a righty quarterback with two incredibly different styles. While the game plan for the offensive system may be the same no matter who is under center, watching each quarterback run the offense could provide twice as much work for opposing defenses.
Additionally, with the Eagles thin at receiver, playing two quarterbacks may provide different favorite targets for each, giving more players a chance to develop into viable offensive weapons within a two-quarterback system.
Perhaps most importantly, planning to play two quarterbacks would allow Kelly to continue the positive competition both passers had during the preseason without fracturing the locker room and forcing the eventual winner of the competition to constantly look over his shoulder.
If Vick wins the battle (his status in the league and early performance in two preseason games seem to have people thinking he will), the moment he has a poor outing, people will be whispering for Foles.
This is a season many think will serve as a building year for Kelly. I hasten to say "re-building" for any first-year coach trying to start something new. Eventually, however, the more Vick struggles this season, the louder the whispers will get.
Vick cannot be the future in Philadelphia long term, but Foles still might be. Vick may not be looking over his shoulder at Foles, but the distraction will be there every single week. The beat writers and sport talk-radio hosts will guarantee it becomes a distraction.
If Foles manages to win the job, he can't help but look over his shoulder at a seasoned veteran like Vick standing on the sidelines. Anyone in that position would do the same. That decision would likely fracture the locker room more than the other.
With that logic, Kelly should just avoid the controversy altogether.
If Kelly has proven to be one thing as an NFL head coach who has yet to coach a game, it's that he is incredibly smart, so he could use the two-quarterback system to the team's advantage. Vick and Foles could plan to split reps during the first half, keeping both fresh and (presumably) healthy into halftime. At that point, Kelly could determine which quarterback had the hot hand that week, giving him more reps in the third quarter and likely all the reps in the fourth.
Some college coaches have seen success with a system where down and distance—not time on the clock—predicates a change. The Eagles tried that in some capacity with the antiquated quarterback system that Andy Reid employed in Vick's first year, trying to make Vick more of a sideshow running back.
Vick had 13 passing attempts and 24 rushing attempts behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb that year. Kelly's ability to create mismatches on offense could lend itself to different packages for Foles or Vick based on the area of the field the Eagles find themselves.
Another option could be to run the quarterbacks like an NBA point guard rotation, ostensibly giving the backup the entire second quarter and maybe part of the third if he's hot. That would allow the starter to get some rest in the middle of the game, watch from the sidelines and figure out a viable plan to attack the defense upon his return.
Again, these ideas may not sound like they would work in the NFL because teams have at times tried them in the past and they failed miserably. That doesn't mean those ideas would fail under Kelly.
I vividly remember the 1992 season when the Denver Broncos had to figure out a quarterback plan without an injured John Elway. After two games with rookie Tommy Maddox at quarterback, Broncos head coach Dan Reeves tried a tandem system where Maddox and Shawn Moore not only split time, but they alternated plays with the incoming quarterback bringing in the play for the offense from the sideline.
It was a disaster.
There have been other innovations in the NFL that came with more success. For a while, the Wildcat system worked, until defenses got smart enough to realize that a direct snap to a running back in the shotgun is not as tricky as they had made it out to be. It worked, and every team tried to copy it for a few seasons.
If Kelly is the football innovator in the NFL he proved to be in college, developing a quarterback system with two players who share the position every game seems right up his alley. The move would protect the quarterbacks from the rigors of a full NFL season, keep defenses off balance and give two players who deserve a chance to play the opportunity to do so.
Kelly shouldn't have to pick a starting quarterback before the season just because that's the way it's always done. He doesn't seem like the kind of coach who cares about that anyway.
Maybe there's a better way for this Eagles team, and maybe—with two serviceable yet unspectacular options at quarterback—sharing time could be the best way to win.