Philadelphia Eagles QB Matt Barkley is making arguably the best impression that I’ve ever seen from an Eagles rookie. Yes, he’s a quarterback and they typically garner more media attention because of their position (hence, more opportunity to make an impression), but there seems to be something different about Barkley.
He displays tremendous confidence – without arrogance (sometimes a fine line to walk) – and shows genuine enthusiasm about being an Eagle. He also appears to have a sincere passion for the game of football.
If you’ve read or heard what he has stated to the media or even follow him on Twitter, how can you not like the guy?
So far, he is saying and doing all the right things. He carries himself in such a way that it seems as if he’s been doing this his entire life. And as a matter of fact, he basically has, since he’s been the starting quarterback of his team since his freshman year of high school.
He’s already almost a “pro’s pro” in the way in which he handles the media and interacts with fans on Twitter. He takes his job seriously and seems like a natural leader.
In everything I’ve seen and heard about Barkley so far, I can’t help but to have this question pop into my head:
Does he have the “it” factor?
I realize there is no scientific proof of whether or not someone has the “it” factor, and it’s a widely debated phenomenon because everyone has different perceptions. The thing is, you either have “it”, or you don’t.
Of course, we won’t truly know this about Barkley until we see him in action on the field. His play and level of success will ultimately determine if he has “it” or not, but for now all we can go on is what we’ve seen and heard up until this point in his career.
Back in 2009, after the first game of Barkley’s career at USC, Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel wrote a piece about him. It’s a good read on the then freshman starter, but here are some particular excerpts I found interesting…
When the Trojans go into full-blown scrimmage mode at the end of practice, you notice something else about Barkley: He carries himself like a guy who’s been starting for years. He calmly looks to the sideline for the play-call, makes eye contact in the huddle, calls out the safeties’ alignment at the line of scrimmage, barks the snap count and, when a pair of pass-rushers descend on him, smartly dumps the ball to his fullback.
That’s when it hits you. He reminds you of someone. Not any quarterback you’ve covered in college, not any quarterback playing today, but a similarly shaped quarterback who, as a 13-year-old, you watched on your parents’ television as he calmly led his team downfield for a game-winning Super Bowl drive.
It’s like you’re looking out at a young Joe Montana.
“Once every so many years, you find this one person that has something, you can’t explain it, but you feel it,” said Steve Clarkson, Barkley’s private tutor since high school whose previous students include Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and Jimmy Clausen. “When he walks into a room, you know it. When he walks into a huddle, his teammates feel it.”
If you believe the people who have watched him most closely, starting from the time he became the first freshman starter at Orange County prep power Mater Dei in 22 years, you’ll be watching not only the next great college star, but also the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
By Barkley’s fifth practice, Carroll realized he was dealing with a rare phenomenon.
“He shouldn’t have been able to do the things we saw him doing,” said Carroll, whose previous USC quarterbacks include two Heisman winners (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) and a top five draft pick (Mark Sanchez). “We have a quarterback that’s unusual. He’s so far ahead of the curve, that it’s hard to predict what he’s going to be able to do.”
“You guys are looking for typical things,” Carroll said after the San Jose State game. “This is not a typical kid.”
He’s earned those comparisons thanks to more than just arm strength. “His physical gifts are well-documented — he’s got the picture-perfect throwing motion — but his mental make-up is off the charts,” said Clarkson.
“When he walks into a room, you know it. When he walks into a huddle, his teammates feel it.” Is that what having the “it” factor is all about? Someone who just has a presence that is sensed by everyone around him?
There he was compared to the likes of Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, all of whom have that “it” factor. He has also been compared to Drew Brees by Ben Roethlisberger and Greg Cosell (who said “Barkley’s ceiling is Brees”).
That’s like a basketball player being compared to Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Dr. J!
Furthermore, the game following that article (the second game of Barkley’s college career), he proceeded to show the “it” factor on the field by leading USC on a clock-eating, game-winning 86-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to beat a good Ohio State team.
So, the young QB, whom everyone thought USC coach Pete Carroll was crazy to start as a freshman, cemented himself as a star and leader just two games into his college career.
Quarterbacks usually do have a strong leadership characteristic, and we can see that Barkley certainly has that trait. Being a leader is not the end-all-be-all, though, because you have to perform well on the field to gain the respect of your teammates.
But, it’s a trait that can’t be understated either.
In an article posted on a Matt Barkley fan site, it talks specifically about his leadership. Here is an excerpt from the first part of the article:
Amid the swirling turmoil that has followed Lane Kiffin from the USC Trojans to the Oakland Raiders, to the Tennessee Volunteers and back again, a young quarterback has grown up and grown strong in his conviction that “everything happens for a reason.”
That’s what is keeping Matt Barkley focused and what gives Kiffin and the Trojans an optimism going into this season that, as these past months unfolded, didn’t seem possible.
When Pete Carroll left abruptly in January, Barkley kept his team from panicking. Barkley, who was offered a scholarship by Kiffin as a 13-year-old, was the first to greet Kiffin when he arrived from his own stunned campus, offering a smile and a vote of confidence. And upon learning of the potentially devastating sanctions imposed on the program by the NCAA, Barkley rallied his teammates and found a way to keep the fight in “fight on,” adopting an us-against-the-world mentality.
“The fact that we can still play,” Barkley said about motivation, “the fact that we can still win and show the world that we’re a team that wants to play football and wants to win. And that one institution can’t tell us what our season is.”
That Barkley happened to be the right man in the right place at the right time is not lost on Kiffin. He saw those qualities when Barkley was in ninth grade and offered him a scholarship on the spot, never knowing how much he would have to someday rely on his arm and his character.
“What he’s gone through,” Kiffin said, “at a school that has won seven straight conference championships. He’s the starter and team goes 9-4, to go through that as a true freshman, then his coach leaves, then a new coach comes in and then sanctions hit and he’s still in great shape.
“We are very fortunate to have him.”
Barkley, who was voted a team captain, greeted Kiffin’s assessment with a grin and a shrug.
“This is where I ended up,” he said. “I was placed here for a reason, I just believe that. I’m just gonna deal with it.”
Spoken like a true leader, I’d say!
And if you don’t think his teammates bought into him, check out this article from Deadspin that described what may have been a “locker room brawl ” where the seniors vehemently defended Barkley against some freshmen that questioned his integrity.
And even then, Barkley’s response to the situation was that of a cool, level-headed leader:
Barkley today denied that any punches had been thrown, insisting that “it was nothing to be alarmed about.” An anonymous player told the Daily News, though, that “it was one of the worst things I’ve seen in a locker room.”
Of course, most people would probably down-play a situation like that because it’s “bad press” for the team. But, nonetheless, he handled it properly and calmly.
Barkley’s career as an Eagle has also gotten off to a great start. From the moment he was drafted, he jumped right in and embraced being a Philadelphia Eagle by immediately tweeting:
“I’m an Eagle!! Time to fly baby“, then promptly changing his Twitter picture to him wearing an Eagles cap.
Speaking of Twitter, it was his initial interaction with fans that started him off on the right foot and made him an immediate hit…
After being drafted he gained all kinds of followers on Twitter and interacted with some of them by re-tweeting their tweets to him. The ones he chose to re-tweet seem to indicate good things about his personality…
“play with a chip on your shoulder. We love you up here in Philly and all that motivation will carry you a long way!
“you will love it in Philly, we have the best fans in the world, but you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them lol.”
“that philly crowd is tough man, but as long as u play to your abilities, be an awesome teammate & lean on God, you’ll be fine”
“If you play hard and with heart, we’ll love you no matter what. Welcome to Philly”
And this is my personal favorite…
“Philly loves ditch diggers, not ballet dancers. Work hard, be professional & Philly will love you. Anything less won’t do.”
Barkley responded to that tweet with a picture of him in Nigeria in 2010 that showed him, well, digging a ditch!
Good stuff from Matt there.
The fact he chose to re-tweet those types of statements tells me a lot about his personality. He seems like a guy that truly understands what he needs to do to not only make it in the NFL, but to make it in Philadelphia.
Barkley even seems to get his timing right. On the day he signed his contract, he was visiting the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and just so happened to be wearing a t-shirt that said “I’m an Eagle”…
— Matthew Barkley (@MattBarkley) June 13, 2013
I’d say that was a fitting shirt to be wearing on that day. With his personality, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he just worn something like that on his signing day anyway.
Barkley made a positive impression during mini-camp and OTAs as he performed well and was noted to be coming in early and staying late. In other words, he’s a hard worker and is dedicated to doing whatever it takes.
He feels he has just as good of a chance as Vick and Foles to win the starting job at quarterback. He’s certainly not short on confidence…(quotes courtesy of Les Bowen on Philly.com)…
Barkley said Michael Vick and Nick Foles are “outstanding men,” who “have both done great things,” but “you come in knowing that you have a job. They’re trying to take that job as well. It’s competition. That’s what competing is all about.”
Asked to revisit the disappointing drama of sliding in the draft, Barkley said, “The fact is that I’m here, and I have a shot to play on the field this year.”
“You come in as a teammate to them, not as a fan,” Barkley said. “You come in as someone who is ready to compete against them, at the same time . . . It’s going to be good competition for all of us, competing against each other, just making each other better.”
When asked about the offense:
“I love it. It’s a new challenge,” said Barkley.
“You have to act quickly. You have to be a sharp decision-maker. I think that’s what coach is looking for at the quarterback position,” Barkley said, when asked about the offense. “You’ll see some similar things” to Oregon’s offense. “It’s coach Kelly . . . We have other ideas and schemes fused in. It’s going to be exciting.”
Asked whether he fits the offense – Barkley is perceived as a fast thinker, but not a particularly fast or elusive runner – Barkley said: “I’ll make it fit. It doesn’t matter [what type of offense], I’m going to find a way to help this team out, and I know Coach Kelly has a way of working things out as well in terms of how he schemes and how he calls plays, so I’m not worried. I’m just worried about the here and now and what I can do right now.”
Since the draft, Barkley has gotten mostly positive analysis from the media and NFL analysts. From the Hall of Fame comparisons to other quarterbacks to strong words of praise from Chip Kelly, his NFL future seems bright.
The one thing Barkley has going for him is that he seems to be Chip Kelly’s kind of player. Not only because Kelly drafted him, obviously, but because all of his descriptions fit everything that Kelly has stated he looks for in a QB.
Football intelligence, the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, make good decisions and have “repetitive accuracy” are all things that Chip wants in his QB, and Barkley appears to have those traits.
The biggest question is whether or not Kelly will truly give Barkley a legitimate chance to win the job, or if he’d really prefer him to sit and learn to start out. Kelly keeps saying it’s an open competition, but Vick and Foles have been the ones splitting first team reps.
It’s hard to win a competition if you’re not getting a shot with the 1′s.
Obviously, the odds are against Barkley right now. Vick and Foles are clearly the two main competitors for the starting job at this point. However, he has overcome these kinds of odds before when he won the starting job at USC as a freshman
It’s possible that if he gets a legitimate shot in camp, Barkley could firmly wedge himself between Vick and Foles to make it a true three horse race. That would make this summer even more interesting because Barkley has never lost a QB competition he was legitimately a part of.
I’ve already gone on record saying Mike Vick will be the starter come opening day. I still think that is the most likely scenario.
However, there is also a decent chance that, for various reasons, we will see another QB under center at some point during the season. If that QB is Barkley, he may seize the job and never let go.