By Sam Farmer
8:59 PM EDT, August 4, 2013
PHILADELPHIA — Matt Barkley hasn't even played in his first NFL exhibition game, and already the Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback has his ring.
It's made of black rubber, and he wears it on his left hand, a temporary wedding band Barkley wears during practices and while lifting weights. He plans to switch eventually to a silver-colored one.
"My wife didn't really notice at first, but when she did, she really appreciated it," said Barkley, the former USC standout who married college sweetheart Brittany Langdon last month. "I really only wear this here, then when I get out of the shower I put the other one on."
Being married feels natural to Barkley. It's everything else these days that feels strange. Although the Eagles have no official depth chart at quarterback, and there's supposedly a three-way position battle for the job, Barkley is unmistakably the third-stringer. Unless there's a dramatic twist, the starter will be either Michael Vick or Nick Foles.
"There is kind of an unspoken depth chart that hasn't moved yet," Barkley said after a recent practice. "It's kind of rough battling that."
Although it's not unusual for a rookie to start at the bottom rung, especially a fourth-round draft pick, Barkley isn't accustomed to anything but the first team. He started all four years at Mater Dei High, then did the same at USC. So this is a new experience, getting accustomed to the NFL, to first-year Eagles Coach Chip Kelly and to waiting in line.
"With Pete [Carroll, then USC's coach], it wasn't like it was given to me," he said. "He throws you in with the 1s. 'Let's see what you can do.' So I was kind of thinking that would be the same here, at least to get a shot just to see what you could do. But that hasn't been the case yet, so hopefully that will come soon. It's just different."
Former Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley watched a recent practice and came away impressed with Barkley's ability to place the football in the right spots, and some current Philadelphia players echo that.
"I heard some knocks on his arm strength, but he throws the ball pretty well," receiver Jason Avant said. "He's had a tight spiral, pretty nice ball, so I was trying to figure out where those comments came from. I like his ability to direct traffic.
"Like today, he missed a throw to me low, and he said, 'The reason I missed it is because I wanted you to go straight, and you were going flat. You don't always see that from a rookie, usually you know more than a rookie. But we're all coming in on equal footing because this offense is new to everybody."
Impatient as he is, Barkley is also realistic about the plight of a rookie and said he doesn't want to be "that kid whining about reps, 'Where are you going to put me?' and whatnot."
This much is obvious: Kelly is impressed with how polished Barkley has been so far.
"Not a lot of guys have started eight straight years before they've become a rookie in the NFL," Kelly said. "He's played a lot of football. He played at a great high school and had a great high school coach. It was a pretty advanced system he ran in high school and obviously played in a real good system at USC.
"The other thing with Matt that I love is he's a football junkie. He just, he eats the game up. He lives it and breathes it."
That much was clear on Barkley's honeymoon, which he and his wife spent in the British Virgin Islands. Just the two of them, with some light beach reading — an Eagles playbook.
"She helped me," Barkley said, "quizzing me on all the stuff."
Precisely what's in that playbook is among the NFL's biggest mysteries this season. People all over the league are curious as to what Kelly plans to run, and many wonder why he traded up to the top of the fourth to grab Barkley, more of a drop-back passer, if he plans to employ the running, zone-read system he ran at Oregon. Or maybe Kelly plans to do what he did as offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.
"What he did at New Hampshire is throw the football," said ESPN's Jon Gruden, who has had extensive video study sessions with Kelly over the years. "Maybe that's why he drafted Matt Barkley, and traded up to get him. Maybe he's going to start Nick Foles and throw the ball like he did at New Hampshire.
"He was running the read-option at Oregon because they can't out-recruit USC and UCLA at Oregon. They've never done that before. … Barkley is no threat to run, and Nick Foles can't run. So it's about, what kind of offense is he going to run?"
The football world waits and watches. The Eagles open their exhibition season Friday against New England, and presumably will give a first glimpse of their strategy, although they undoubtedly will reveal only a sliver of their full playbook.
Barkley figures to get significant playing time in the preseason, and he said he's becomingly increasingly comfortable with the offense, and working with third-string receivers forces him to be even more accurate.
"It makes it more of a challenge for me when I'm out there because the windows are tighter," he said. "You have to put the ball more in the precise place with those receivers. So hopefully if I do get that chance with the 1s and those guys it will be beneficial."
Back in college football, Kelly knew Barkley, and Barkley knew Kelly. Sort of.
"I didn't really know him behind the scenes," Barkley said. "I just saw him on the sidelines running the offense. Surprisingly, I haven't seen him call one play out here so far. It's all [offensive coordinator Pat] Shurmur. I guess we'll have to wait on that too, come game day.
"But I can definitely see why [Kelly] was able to turn Oregon into such a powerhouse, just by the way he runs the program. From the top down, every little facet and detail that he puts in to try to maximize player performance, it works."
Shurmur was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis, helping Sam Bradford win 2010 offensive-rookie-of-the-year honors, and was head coach in Cleveland last season, working to bring along rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
"I think the next big step for Matt will be in the preseason games when he plays," Shurmur said. "We're out here doing things in practice, but until he can get in a real game situation at this level, that's when things will start to separate themselves."
That can't happen soon enough for Barkley, who is itching to show what he can do.
"There's an opportunity here," he said. "Chip supports me. [Eagles owner Jeffrey] Lurie supports me. It's just kind of like, when does that full support come? Maybe preseason will be that time."
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