FOLES’ SLICK BALL HANDLING HAS BIRDS HOPING FOR A SUPER BOWL
Eagles Pro Bowl, MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz took virtually every rep with the ones from OTA’s to mini-camp, training camp, preseason and through the first 13 regular season games this year until a torn ACL ended his season in the third quarter of the Birds game against the Los Angeles Rams.
He built a chemistry with his receivers, running backs and offensive line that had put the Eagles in the driver’s seat for a legitimate run at the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles, Wentz’ backup and former Pro Bowl signal caller with the Eagles, missed most of the off season and training camp with a sore elbow.
The only remaining players who were teammates on offense of Foles during his magical 2013 season are Jason Kelce, Brent Celek and then rookie Lane Johnson.
The NFL season is not going to hold up its schedule so Foles can get his chops down, build a rhythm with is receivers and learn the heels of his blockers.
This had to be done on the run with short passes, counters, screens and RPOs.
So far so good. In his three starts of meaningful games – two regular season and a playoff game – Foles hasn’t looked great but he hasn’t lost. It has certainly helped that the Birds defense has dominated for the most part especially last Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Divisional game, a 15-10 Eagles win.
The Eagles hope their defense and creative play-calling can work one more time this Sunday when the Birds take on the Minnesota Vikings at the Linc for the NFC Title (FOX 6:40 PM) and a berth in Super Bowl LII against the winner of the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Part the reason Foles and the Eagles have done well is his ability to sell those screens, misdirection plays and run-pass-option calls.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich talked about why Foles is so effective with his slight-of-hand behind center.
“If you’re around Nick, you know Nick is a great basketball player,” said Reich, who has interest from teams including the Tennessee Titans for their head coach vacancy. “He’s a point guard. If he was playing basketball on the street, he’s going to wheel and deal the ball. He’s the guy out there. He can throw it behind his back with accuracy. He can give you the no-look pass. He can be looking one way and hit a guy. He has that knack and feel, and that’s a little bit of the RPO game. I think he’s very comfortable with that.”
While a student-athlete at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, Foles had interest from Baylor, Georgetown and Texas…for basketball.
When Foles was picked by the Eagles in the third round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arizona, he wasn’t shy about his hoops background.
“If you watch film on me, I’m an athlete,” Foles said, when the Eagles drafted him. “I’m a basketball player, too.”
Kelce said he has known Foles was a special athlete in his own way from day one.
“We always have this argument…’what’s athleticism,’” Kelce said at his locker this week. “Is athleticism being able to run face, or jump high, things like that? Really athleticism is being able to coordinate the all of the talents that you have and putting them together toward a specific sport.
“I think Nick, even though he can’t run as fast as Carson, or as fast as (Mike) Vick when we had Chip Kelly’s offense here,” Kelce continued. “I think what Nick is good at is he’s a very fluid athlete, he’s very coordinated. He understands movements and patterns…he does that extremely well. From that aspect I think Nick is a tremendous athlete. All of that is evident, and has always been evident since I’ve been playing with him.”
Wide receiver Torrey Smith said he only knows Foles as a quarterback and his ball-handling skills are part of his job.
“I think it’s just part of him being a good quarterback,” Smith said. “He’s able to make plays and understand how to really ‘sell it.’ Part of being a good quarterback is being a good actor in certain situations. He just has a good feel for those things.”
Running back Corey Clement said he thinks Foles’ ball handling ability behind the line of scrimmage is under-appreciated. At least now that you mention it.
“It definitely is,” Clement said. “It’s definitely is. It’s definitely unnoticed because I didn’t really think about it like that as well. And if I didn’t really notice it like that then it’s definitely going unnoticed. Nick is definitely somebody who has nothing but talent, great charisma and is a leader. As far as he can go, the sky is the limit.”
The rookie out of Wisconsin and South Jersey native said Foles can sell screen plays as well as anyone.
“He really does,” Clement said. “I think he take pride in that. He wants to keep working on his craft as well. At practice he looked really fluid.”
Foles talked about the success he had with the short, quick passes against Atlanta and that three of the four scoring drives he engineered went for 14, 12, and 14 plays. Minnesota’s defense doesn’t give up a lot of those long drives. How important will it be to get some chunk plays on the Vikings?
“Yeah, absolutely, we are going to have be able to take some shots,” Foles said this week. “Against Atlanta, they played a different coverage where they tried to keep everything in front of them. Minnesota does a really good job. They are a little bit more diverse in their coverages. They like to switch it up. They do a good job of rocking and rolling the safeties, and they play a lot tighter down. They are not going to give us as much underneath, so yeah, we are absolutely going to have make some larger completions.”
Eagles fans hope to be in good hands with Foles.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii