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August 17, 2015

After one preseason game, Tebow vs. Barkley still too close to call

Eagles NFL
081715_Tebow_AP Michael Perez/AP

Eagles QB Tim Tebow.

The most fascinating storyline of the Eagles preseason has undoubtedly been Tim Tebow's comeback attempt, trying to make the team as the third-string quarterback after two years away from the game. And it goes way beyond his battle with Matt Barkley for the No. 3 spot behind Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez.

On Sunday against the Colts, Tebow got the loudest ovation -- by far -- of any Eagles player. There were even fans doing the Gator Chomp, the signature cheer of the University of Florida. If they had their way, the former Heisman winner would be on this team.

But all the love Tebow gets from Gator Eagle Nation won't be any help when it comes to whether or not he makes the final 53-man roster. That will be determined by Chip Kelly ... and his play on the field.

In the Eagles 36-10 win over the Colts, Kelly finally got to see Tebow in live game action, and the results were, well, mixed.

He finished 6-for-12 passing for 69 yards and added another 15 yards on the ground, including an eight-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

"I think there were some things that were decent and some things that we have to work on," Tebow said in the locker room after the game. "Just try to be more consistent and improve communication with the offensive line and receivers. That’s a big key, especially when you’re running a fast tempo in this offense. Everybody being on the same page is huge. 

"It’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. It’s one more day to try to improve and try to get a little bit better tomorrow.”

But Tebow's play won't be the only deciding factor in whether or not he makes this team. He'll have to beat out Barkley, who looked better than expected Sunday. On his first drive, which was capped off by Kenjon Barner's nine-yard TD run, the former USC quarterback was 2-for-3 for 65 yards.


Before Tebow could even get into the game, Barkley had made his presence known. He finished the game 12-of-20 passing for 192 yards and an interception. Three of his six drives went for more than 40 yards, all three ending in Eagles' scores (two field goals and the Barner TD run).

"I just wanted to play good football," Barkley said when asked if he was trying to make a statement that he belongs on the roster. "If I made a statement, so be it. But I wanted to come in and make plays. I think the important thing with this offense is to get the ball rolling, get completions and get yards right away. Once drives start moving, plays open up. I think we did that tonight.”

But what did their coach, the one ultimately tasked with deciding which player to keep, think of his quarterbacks' play?

"I thought he did a real nice job," Kelly said when asked to assess Barkley. "We screwed up a little bit on that one naked [bootleg] where it ended up getting tipped, but that guy should have been blocked. Our tight end was lined up too tight, we should have had a pin block on him and got him to the corner and given him an opportunity to throw it, but I thought he did a real nice job out there."

And Tebow?

"I liked how Timmy threw it," Kelly added. "That's the big concern with everybody coming in, is has he really changed? I think he's sequencing better.  He's got his feet underneath him.  When the guys ran the right routes and he had the opportunity to throw the football, I thought he threw the ball really well."

Here's a look at the final stats for both:


But with such a small sample size -- less than a half of football each -- those numbers hardly tell the whole story. For a closer look, here's a drive-by-drive comparison:

2/3, 65 yds passing
[Notes: Capped off by Barner's 9-yard TD run]
14/5, 43 yds passing, 3 yds rushing
[Notes: Converted two 3rd downs (5 yds, 12 yds); Ended with missed 34-yd FG by Parkey.]
2/3, 23 yds passing, INT
[INT was deflected, but Barkley still mostly at fault.
He threw it into a lane that was blocked by a Colts player, causing the deflection.]
21/2, 18 yds passing, 5 yds rushing
[Sacked for 13-yard loss on 3rd & 5.]
0/1, 0 yds passing, 2 yds rushing
[Agholor dropped what would have been a 1st down.
Good pass, right on his hands.]
30/1, 0 yds passing
[Sacked for 9-yd loss on 3rd & 7.]
1/3, 10 yds passing
[Agholor drew a 32-yard PI call on a nice touch pass down the right sideline.
Eagles went for it on 4th and 4 from Colts' 15,
but Barner came up short.]
41/3, 8 yds passing
[Sacked on 3rd down again, but bailed out by unnecessary roughness penalty on the hit.]
5/7, 50 yds passing
[Drive stalled at Colts' 22, but Barkley threw nice
pass on 3rd down that was just out of reach
of Ajirotutu. Settled for 40-yard Parkey FG.]
50/1, 0 yds passing
[Working on short field after turnover. Capped off by 40-yard Parkey FG.]
2/3, 44 yds passing
[40 yards came on screen pass to Mostert. Eagles settled for a 48-yard Parkey FG.]
60/0, 0 yds passing, 8 yds rushing, TD
[Another short field, another score. This time an 8-yard run to the right side from Tebow.]

As you can see, both quarterback were able to show a little of what they bring to the table. 

For Barkley, he reaffirmed that he is the better passer of the two. He's also spent two years in Kelly's offense -- the same two years in which his opposition was out of the league. Tebow, on the other hand, was able to show off his running ability, and was the only one of the two to score a touchdown (passing or rushing).

But Kelly said after the game that he isn't looking for one particular skill set in his No. 3 quarterback. He also noted what was clearly visible from the press box: the playing field wasn't quite equal, and that likely contributed to some of Tebow's struggles.

"No, they have to be able to do it all," Kelly said. "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."

Clearly, Kelly isn't going to base his decision off one preseason game, but for those who thought Tebow was a lock to make the roster, Sunday's win over the Colts showed that the competition might be a little closer than that -- and certainly too tight to call right now.

But not for some fans -- like the ones doing the Gator Chomp. They're still firmly in Tebow's corner. Even Barkley took notice.

"He’s a fan favorite and he’s a good teammate," Barkley said. "He played well today. He did a good job. It’s pretty funny to see their reaction. It happens wherever he goes, as it should. He’s a good person. I love him as a teammate. It was a good showing.”

As for Tebow, he's just happy to be getting a shot to make the team.

“It’s a blessing to put in work for something and be able to see that work, to be able to get to a point where you’re back playing ball and having fun," said Tebow. "I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

And what about that Gator Chomp?

“I saw when we were in the tunnel, some people doing it," he added with a smile. "It’s awesome. Gator Nation is everywhere, man.”

Unfortunately for Tebow, this isn't a popularity contest; Kelly has already proven he won't hesitate to cut a fan favorite. But the Eagles coach also isn't afraid to think outside the box, and when it comes to NFL quarterbacks, you don't get much more outside the box than Tebow.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin