Chip Kelly and the QB Decision

we_have_to_forgive_michael_vick-460x307I’ve already dissected the Chip Kelly hiring from every possible angle (here & here) and what it will mean for the Eagles moving forward. My take: this is a brilliant coaching mind responsible for the most progressive offensive system since the days of Bill Walsh and his West Coast horizontal passing game. There aren’t many similarities between the two coaches or how their particular systems are run but there is one constant. Both require a great decision-maker at the QB position.

Kelly needs to identify who that person is and mold his offense around the skill set of his newest QB. Will it be Mike Vick and a read-option centric game plan? Could it be Nick Foles and more of a traditional spread system? Maybe it’s an incoming prospect of the 2013 NFL Draft. At this point, it’s guesswork. Nonetheless, it can be helpful to understand the strengths of each possibility and offer some handicapping on who will wind up under center for the Eagles on Week One. Here is The Spotter’s View on the most important decision of Chip Kelly’s career.

The Case for Michael Vick

A common misconception about Kelly’s system is that it requires a running QB to be successful. This isn’t the case. The ideal candidate would be a QB who demonstrates good decision-making skills, who is a distributor first but also has the ability to run. He doesn’t want a running QB who can throw. He wants a passer that can run.

Vick has both skills and would likely benefit playing in Kelly’s system which simplifies the QBs reads because of the offensive advantages created through pace. People look at Vick’s last two seasons – which have been abhorrent – and think to themselves, he’s past his prime. He can’t do it anymore. He’s a turnover machine and he’s incapable of staying healthy. They wouldn’t be wrong.

However, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss those shortcomings without understanding the monumental change that Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg and Howard Mudd implemented in Philadelphia. Vick was exceptional in 2010 playing behind Jaun Castillo’s offensive line. In 2011 and 2012, he was awful playing behind Mudd’s front-five. Why?

It’s believed that Vick never got accustomed to the pre-snap phase of calling out protection plans at the line of scrimmage – a requirement in Mudd’s pass pro. This was Mudd’s plan in Indianapolis where OC Jeff Saturday and QB Peyton Manning ran it to perfection. But Vick struggled with it and was hindered further by the injury to starting center Jason Kelce. That is a relationship – between QB and Center – that needs to operate with certainty for the pass protection to hold up. It didn’t over these last two years in Philly because Vick was uncomfortable handling it and his relationship with the center position was in flux. The result: playing under constant duress, making poor decisions because of pressure and turning the ball over in crucial spots.

With Mudd gone and his unorthodox teachings no longer an issue, the thinking is that Vick could play with more confidence. Kelly’s system would take away that pre-snap phase and simplify his responsibilities at the line. This would allow Vick to utilize his tremendous physical tools and focus on making the right decisions post-snap.

The upside here is intriguing as Vick possesses one of the league’s strongest arms and is still a dangerous runner capable of excelling in a read-option scheme. With less responsibility at the line, he very well could return to his near-MVP level of 2010. For that to happen though, he’ll need to renegotiate his contract. The Eagles aren’t going to pay an oft-injured 32 year old QB $15.5 million dollars next year. They just aren’t. Still – at the right number – Vick could be a great fit in Kelly’s scheme. His experience as an option QB at Virginia Tech and during his Atlanta days are also of note.

Odds of Vick starting Week One: 25%

The Case for Nick Foles

Having played in a spread system as a distributor during his college days at Arizona, Foles has some valuable experience that would surely help him in Kelly’s system. He isn’t the perfect fit athletically but he is a big, strong kid with a great understanding of the game. Here’s what Kelly said about Foles after Oregon defeated Arizona in September of 2011:

“I’ll tell you what; I’m glad Nick Foles is graduating, I catch myself watching him in awe sometimes. … Nick is a hell of a football player. That kid’s a warrior. He’s as good as anyone in the country.”

Empty platitude or an honest opinion on Foles? That’s the question. Kelly would have no way of knowing that two years later he’d be coaching Foles and have the responsibility of deciding his NFL fate. But that’s where we are. If in fact Kelly meant what he said, it would seem that Foles has a real chance at the starting job. He’s young, he’s very coachable, his experience as a distributor is valuable and he’s shown good decision-making skills in the handful of starts we’ve seen him.

He’s not going to be featured in a read-option based scheme but Kelly has said that he would adjust his play-calling to the strengths of his QB. So in a Foles-centric offense, that would be more of a spread attack. Bubble screens, rocket screens, tons of quick game out of the gun, inside zone plays and a focus on distributing the ball to his weapons in space. The downside: without at least the threat to run, the QB in Kelly’s system isn’t maximized in terms of production.

Odds of Foles starting Week One: 20%

The Case for WVU QB Geno Smith

Smith possesses the perfect combination of athleticism and passing ability. He looks a lot like Darron Thomas from Kelly’s days at Oregon and has the experience of playing in a similar spread system from his days in Morgantown. Perhaps the second-most innovate coach at the college level was the mountaineers Dana Holgorsen. Smith ran his system smoothly and was fantastic at times in 2012. Anyone who throws 8 TD in one game and posts 600+ passing yards obviously can make plays. Take a look:

At WVU, Smith operated mostly out of the shotgun set – something he’d do a lot of in Kelly’s system. He also did a great job of getting the ball into his playmaker’s hands showing great decision-making skills in the process. At one point, Smith was believed to be the top pick in the NFL Draft before a mid-season losing streak halted the momentum of his meteoric rise.

He’s still a rare talent though and would seem to be a perfect fit for Kelly in Philadelphia. The question is where and how can the Eagles land Smith? He’s not considered a top-5 pick (the Eagles pick at #4) and there’s no guarantee he’ll make it to #36 (where the Eagles pick in Round 2). GM Howie Roseman would need to be creative and find a wiling trade partner, preferably a team with a pick in the middle of the first round. In terms of fitting into Kelly’s system and being the right guy to maximize the QB position’s production within this offense, Smith makes a lot of sense.

Odds of Smith Starting Week One: 30%


The Case for Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib

This kid’s name has suddenly appeared at the top of the QB prospects entering the 2013 NFL Draft. Nassib enjoyed a pretty solid season for The Orange and shows the ability to throw on the run – a skill needed in Kelly’s system. He’s done a nice job running some of the read-option stuff that we’ve seen take the NFL by storm this season and he’s a fifth year senior. So maturity and decision-making skills seem like they’d be a strength for Nassib. Many believe this kid – in a weak QB class – might be taken as high as the first round come April. I don’t see it.

After watching five of his games on YouTube, two glaring flaws are apparent. One – Nassib holds onto the football for far too long and takes too many sacks as a result of this bad habit. He also misses open receivers which leads me to believe accuracy will be even more of an issue at the NFL level where passing windows will be much smaller. Nassib is more of an athlete than Foles but he isn’t on the same level of Smith. His game just has too many flaws. Look:

Granted, that example is against a superior team with more talent. But here’s Nassib against Rutgers:

He flashes some play-making ability at times and I really like his skills throwing on the move but accuracy is a major concern. Still…..in a weak QB class there remains an outside chance that Nassib winds up in Philadelphia to compete for the job. A very small chance but still….

Odds Nassib Starts Week One: 5%

The Case for Miami (OH) QB Zac Dysert

Unless you feverishly follow college football, there’s a very good chance that you’ve never heard of Zac Dysert. But that doesn’t mean the QB of the Miami (OH) Redhawks isn’t a special player. Because, in my opinion, he is. Dysert is an emotional player with good size, a strong arm and that “it” factor that all great QBs seem to have. He’s shown great touch on his deep balls and rarely misses an open receiver. As a runner, he’s not real elusive but he does have the speed to be a threat. He’s also got good size and has shown the ability to take a big hit without it resulting in injury.

I think Dysert also fits the mold of a Chip Kelly “guy”. Someone who has flown a little under the radar, who comes from the obscurity of a small school and maybe doesn’t have the hype of a Smith or of USC’s Matt Barkley. Based on his time at UNH and Oregon, it would seem Kelly has an affinity for taking an unknown QB as his starter. Dysert fits that mold as he’s currently ranked 8th in the 2013 class of passers. I really like this kid and think he has a chance to be successful at the next level. The major question: being that Dysert played in the MAC against inferior defensive talent, it’s difficult to definitively say his skill set would transition to the highest level of football. Kelly has a great track record of evaluating talent though….so if Dysert winds up in Philly, I wouldn’t second guess it.

Odds of Dysert Starting Week One: 15%

The Case for Florida State QB EJ Manuel

I love this kid’s poise and his humility. He’s arguably the best QB in terms of intangibles in this year’s class. Manuel is a stand-up guy, a great leader and he’s shown the maturity to handle the spotlight of being the face of a program. He’s drawn rave reviews from his coaches at FSU and from everyone in the media whose gotten a chance to know him. From that perspective, I think Manuel has some real potential.

On the field, Manuel is no slouch either. He’s got a huge arm, he’s very athletic and has experience operating an offense that is run primarily out of the shotgun formation. I like his ball-handling skills in the shotgun play-action game as well. This kid has the right mindset, the physical tools and the overall skill set to be successful in Kelly’s scheme. Look:

The concerns: his footwork isn’t great, he’s got a little bit of a long delivery and he can be streaky. He’s projected as a 4th round pick. Obviously, it’s difficult to predict which way Kelly will go when making this decision but Manuel is a kid who might warrant some consideration.

Odds Manuel Starts Week One: 10%

The Case for Ravens Practice Squad QB Dennis Dixon

Dixon led Kelly’s attack at the University of Oregon and finished 5th in the Heisman voting following the 2007 season. His experience and intricate knowledge of Kelly’s scheme is an advantage Dixon possesses over every other possible QB candidate the Eagles may consider for next season. It’s a long shot that Kelly would bank his future on a former 5th round pick whose been buried on the Ravens practice squad BUT….Dixon did have some success as a starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 posting a 2-0 record while completing nearly 70% of his throws.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly decided to make a play for his former QB. His experience might be valuable in teaching this system to the other signal callers in Philly and his familiarity with Kelly can’t be considered a bad thing. As far as Dixon earning the starting job with the Eagles, that would shock me.

Odds Dixon Starts Week One: 1%

The Case for Oakland Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor

Rumors have begun swirling that the Eagles are interested in trading for Pryor – the former Ohio State standout currently playing for the Oakland Raiders. This would seem to be an unlikely scenario given the concerns about Pryor’s character but we are talking about the Eagles here, a team that hasn’t shied away from shocking moves in recent years.

Pryor – from an athletic standpoint – does fit what Kelly is looking for. He’s got great size, he’s an extremely gifted runner and he showed some promise as an NFL-caliber passer during his Week 17 start last year. Pryor also has experience running the read-option from his time at Ohio State. His skill set is similar to that of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who will be starting in Super Bowl XLVII 14 days from now.

The big concern with Pryor – much like with Vick – would be his decision-making skills. Kaepernick has displayed a great knack for finding the right balance between showcasing his extreme athleticism while still getting his play-makers involved. Pryor would need to do the same thing. However, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Great athletes trust in their own abilities more than that of their teammates. If Pryor were to come to Philly (a long shot) and succeed, he would need to find that balance. He would need to become more of a distributor and shy away from relying on his own physical skills.

That said, this kid was once the top-recruit in the country and has a lot of potential from a skill-set standpoint. If Kelly can massage his decision-making process and get him to play within his scheme – the ceiling for Pryor would be appear to be pretty high. Again – I’d be shocked if the Eagles pursued Pryor but it wouldn’t be the first time this front office made a shocking move. Keep an eye on this as we move further into the off-season. Rumors start for a reason…

Odds Pryor Starts Week One: 10%

The Case for NY Jets QB Tim Tebow

He’s a winner.

Odds Tebow Starts Week One: .01%

The Case for a QB Not on This List

Kelly has always found a guy off the radar to play QB in his system. He’s really shown a history of doing that both at UNH and at Oregon. I’ve tried to lay out the best possible options for Kelly in the list above but that doesn’t mean the Eagles starting QB can’t be someone we haven’t yet discussed. Kelly has even said “There’s nobody ruled out at this point” referring to who will start for the Eagles in 2013.

Matt Moore from the Dolphins would make some sense in free-agency. As would Alex Smith who ran Urban Meyer’s spread system at Utah. Matt Scott is an athletic player with potential from the University of Arizona. Landry Jones out of Oklahoma is one of the best “distributor” types available in the Draft. Kelly could go in any of these directions or find someone else. His history suggests this is a real possibility.

Odds for QBX Starting Week One: 50%

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