Football / Sports

Commentary: Eagles' Barkley, Sanchez compete for spot behind Foles

Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley have a lot in common; chief among their similarities is a love-hate relationship with being an NFL backup quarterback.

But at the moment, that job is the best the Philadelphia Eagles have to offer.

Sanchez and Barkley, though, enter the competition to be Nick Foles' backup from opposite directions. After five seasons with the New York Jets (mostly) as the starter, Sanchez comes to the Eagles content (he has said) to take a step down and be the No. 2 quarterback.

"I don't even lose sleep over it. It's not a big deal," Sanchez said recently. "I'm doing everything I can to help this team. And if my role's going to be help Nick get ready for the season, help Nick get ready for Week 1 or preseason games, I'm going to be ready to do whatever they need me to do."

Barkley, on the other hand, is looking for a promotion. He spent his rookie season third on the depth chart and must have felt, after Michael Vick signed with the Jets in March, that he would jump a spot.

But the Eagles inked Sanchez shortly after they waved so long to Vick, and when organized team activities commenced last Tuesday, it was Sanchez ahead of Barkley on the depth chart. Sanchez, despite being a novice in Chip Kelly's offense, ran with the second team, while Barkley took the majority of repetitions with the third team ahead of G.J. Kinne.

"I didn't know what to expect," Barkley said. "I just agreed with the coaches. They know what's best for the team, and I'm just trusting them, keep on working hard, and trying to make the most of my reps."

Whether the order surprised Barkley or not, it shouldn't surprise anyone else, nor should the likelihood that Sanchez will win what Kelly said last month should be a stiff competition.

If Foles and Vick split snaps last season in their competition for the starting job, why couldn't Sanchez and Barkley with the second team? There may be time for that, but it doesn't bode well for Barkley.

Sanchez's experience alone gives him an advantage, and Barkley's struggles in relief when both Foles and Vick went down last season likely had something to do with his placement at the start of OTAs.

Kelly doesn't have the luxury of handing Barkley the backup spot just to see if his 2013 fourth-round draft pick can handle the job.

"I've said it all along -- you better have two," Kelly said. "Because there's not many (quarterbacks) that make it through an entire season. You look at Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning missed it (two years) ago. Tom Brady missed a year."

Foles missed one start to a concussion last season and sat out the 2012 season finale after he fractured a bone in his right hand. Michael Vick, certainly more injury-prone than most quarterbacks, missed 15 games to injury in four seasons as the Eagles starter.

Last season, 13 of 32 teams had their designated starting quarterback miss at least one start due to injury. Nine teams had their starters sidelined for at least five games. In 2012, 12 of 32 teams were without their quarterback for at least one start. In 2013, it was 15 of 32.

The Eagles could do a lot worse than Sanchez.

Here are the projected backup quarterbacks for the 12 playoffs teams from last season and their career starting marks: Seahawks, Tarvaris Jackson (17-17); Broncos, Brock Osweiler (0-0); 49ers, Blaine Gabbert (5-22); Patriots, Ryan Mallett (0-0); Panthers, Derek Anderson (18-25); Colts, Matt Hasselbeck (80-72); Saints, Luke McCown (2-7); Chargers, Kellen Clemens (8-13); Packers, Matt Flynn (3-4); Chiefs, Chase Daniel (0-1); Bengals, Jason Campbell (32-47); Eagles, Sanchez (33-29).

Sanchez, of course, still has to prove he can implement Kelly's fast-break, spread offense better than Barkley. He should get the up-tempo part down fast. Some of his best moments with the Jets came running the two-minute drill.

"It's constantly like a two-minute drill," Sanchez said. "They expect you to blink fast and think fast and move fast, react to things, anticipate. It's fun. It feels like a fastbreak. It feel likes when Steve Nash was running with the Suns, just dishing the ball. That's really the way they view their quarterback."

The scheme requires repetitive accuracy, though, and Sanchez's career completion percentage (55.1) will have to increase significantly if he's to thrive. Sanchez did have one of the quicker releases in the league before he tore his labrum last preseason.

The Eagles have touted Barkley's trigger, suggesting that his quick release will offset what he lacks in arm strength. He said he's 100 percent recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered in November 2012, but Kelly said there hasn't been a big difference in his throwing this offseason as opposed to last.

"I feel like I got more torque, more velocity on the ball," Barkley said. "I feel confident in being able to put it anywhere I need to."

Sanchez and Barkley don't lack in the confidence department. The latter followed the former at Southern California, and neither has much experience as a backup. But that's generally the way it happens in the NFL. The best backups adjust to no longer being the man.

"Regardless of what anybody says, we all want to play," Sanchez said. "Matt wants to start just like I do, just like G.J. does. And there's nothing wrong with that. You should want to play."

(Jeff McLane: jmclane@phillynews.com)

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