More Sports:

September 01, 2015

Barkley vs. Tebow will come down to preseason finale vs. Jets, Chip says

Eagles NFL
073115TimTebow Matt Rourke/AP

Bubble boys

It's short week for the Eagles, who play their preseason finale against the Jets on Thursday night, and Tuesday was the last day Chip Kelly was available to the media prior the team's trip to the Meadowlands. 

As expected, quarterback Sam Bradford will not play. Nor will backup Mark Sanchez. And that means that Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow, the two guys competing for the Eagles' No. 3 QB spot, will get plenty of time to show Kelly why they deserve the job.

On Monday, Kelly was asked specifically about Tebow, and offered the following assessment of the two-time BCS title winner:

I've seen Tim improve since he got here. He's improved in his throwing motion since we got him in April; I think he's really worked very hard at that. [He’s worked at] sequencing his throwing motion, so I think he's been a lot more accurate with his passes.
He's had a good camp. He's got a big week again this week. The guys that are going to play against the Jets have a big week.  I anticipate him working really hard like he always does.

It wasn't the kind of mouth-watering, I-can't-wait-to-unleash-him response offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur offered earlier in training camp, but it was positive nonetheless, even if not as strong as some of Kelly's previous answers.

A day later, it was Barkley who was the subject of several questions launched at the Eagles coach. And Kelly's answers sounded awfully familiar:

"I think Matt can make all of the throws in this offense," he said when asked about Barkley's improvement year-over-year. "It's just about getting acclimated, decision-making and he's done a really nice job of it. I think he's better now than when we first got him, and he's shown improvement in every year. I think he's really well versed in what we do. 

"He’s got a big night again on Thursday night, but I know he's excited about playing in it."

Clearly, the Jets game will go a long way in deciding which QB ultimately makes the 53-man roster. So far, neither has stood out in the preseason. But Kelly admitted that there's still time to make an impression on the coaching staff.

RELATED: Could Eagles cut both Barkley AND Tebow?

Even with all the reps taken in practice, his opinions of both players "aren't formed" yet, at least not entirely. He's hoping that one more game, one in which they'll play more snaps than they have all preseason, can separate the two.

"Obviously, I think especially with the quarterback position, practice is different just because they are wearing red jerseys," Kelly said of how important the Jets game will be in finalizing his decision. "When they are not hit, when you get them out there in a game, it's another opportunity to get a legitimate evaluation of them. So there is a lot of weight on it."

 Kelly would say whether the two would split playing time right down the middle, but he did, for the first time all preseason, name a starter.

"[Barkley will] start the game, but who starts and who finishes in preseason games, I don't think that's important," he said. "Trying to distribute the reps is the big thing and we haven't talked about exactly how we'll distribute the reps."

And that's where it could get interesting.

One of the first Chip soundbites that stuck with me from this third-string QB battle cam after the first preseason game against the Colts. Barkley looked the best he has all preseason, while Tebow's outing was more up-and-down -- although he did run for a touchdown in that game. 

Following the game, Kelly seemed to be making excuses for Tebow, saying that some of his struggles that afternoon -- like holding onto the ball too long -- were not all his fault. Here's the response he gave:

But you also have to look at who is in with who. You know what I mean?  I think there's a different set of receivers in with Matt than Timmy had and really a different [offensive line] at times.
So you have to take some of that into ‑‑ there's a couple of those where Timmy held the ball and looks like, "Why is he doing that?" Well, the receiver ran the wrong route. He's looking for a receiver to run a shallow cross and we didn't get a shallow cross. We don't get that a lot in training sessions where if the receiver doesn't run the right route, now what do we do?
"So there were a couple busts out there. We have some young receivers that we think are going to be good, but three of those guys just got here a week ago, so there were a couple mental mistakes, whether it was up front or at the receiver spot." 

I was somewhat curious to see what Kelly would do in the games that followed, specifically whether or not he would put Tebow in first the following week so that he could get a chance to play with the same guys Barkley was out there with.

RELATED: Barkley vs. Tebow, Round 3 | Rd. 2 | Rd. 1

That didn't happen against the Ravens and Packers. But with only two quarterbacks splitting the entire game on Thursday, could Kelly alternate quarters so they both get a chance to play with the same supporting cast?

That's not likely, but Kelly could mix in similar players -- both outside and on the line -- so that he gets a more balanced sample of the two passers. 

"We know Matt and Tim are playing, but we will sit down and kind of figure out, ‘Who is in, who is out?’" Kelly said when asked about how his quarterbacks' playing time would be split. "Really what is going on at the other positions, but we'll finalize all that later on."

But no matter the number of snaps they receive or the order in which they play, Thursday night will be their last real chance to make a lasting impression.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin