By Sarah Berkowitz

Forget the battles to see who will be the Eagles right guard or who will replace Brandon Boykin as the nickel CB.

The real competition is:

Will Tim Tebow (right in above photo) or Matt Barkley (left) emerge as the Birds’ No. 3 quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez?

If you are simply judging by the stats and performance in Sunday’s 36-10 pasting of the Colts in the first preseason game, Barkley will get the call.

But Eagles coach Chip Kelly as an emotional investment in resurrecting Tebow, and that might tip the scales to the former Florida Heisman Trophy winner.

As CBCSports.com’s Jason Laconfora writes:

Kelly doesn’t sound like a man ready to give up just yet, and if he’s as committed to this as his words would indicate then Tebow will be lining up with some higher caliber teammates soon enough. Otherwise, the broadcast booth awaits.

It stands to reason that both Tebow and Barkley are not on the roster come Week 1, so Barkley’s performance may have been the most positive revelation of the day for Philadelphia.

A strong preseason from Barkley, the former USC star, after last year’s abject failures might eventually net the Eagles a late draft pick for him if nothing else.

Several executives and coaches around the league believe that all things being close to even, Kelly would prefer to keep Tebow for key gadget plays, fourth-down situations, and most notably two-point conversions, which have been incentivized by the new NFL rules and which were all the rage in the first week of the preseason. In this regard Tebow — a quarterback? A fullback? An H-back? All of the above? — would seem to have an advantage. His inclusion on this 53-man roster would only add more fuel to the Cult of Chip and the notion that the mysterious head coach is not just driven to win but to win in a way few others could easily duplicate.

Of course, Sunday’s outing couldn’t be construed as close to even between Barkley and Tebow to even the most jaundiced pro-Tebow advocate.

Barkley was more effective — although keep in mind the level of competition — and he had this looking and feeling like a real Kelly production during his extended run under center. The Eagles picked up yards in chunks, Barkley spread the ball around and they moved at the rapid pace we’ve come to expect.

Barkley picked up big gains to first-round pick Nelson Agholor (he’ll feature in this offense right away and his ability to plant, cut and pick up YAC was a constant Sunday) and veteranMiles Austin. Barkley finished his afternoon 12-of-20 for 192 yards, with a tipped pass for a pick his biggest blemish.

“I’m confident in my arm,” Barkley said in assessing the differences between this August and last year. “I’m confident with my timing with the receivers.” Kelly agreed: “I thought he did a really nice job.”

If anything helped Bradford’s status, it was Sanchez, who couldn’t find his spot on his delivery and was constantly flinging balls high, wide or short – sometimes all of the above.

He missed a chance at a huge gain on his first attempt, left receivers strung out all over the field — the kind of plays that lead to major injuries — with Agholor finally bailing him out, stretching for a ball, wiggling out of traffic and rumbling for a 34 yard score. Sanchez’s best flash came on a first-down scamper. He finished 2-of-7 for 52 yards, with, again, Agholor’s individual effort making that stat line not as horrid as it merited.

“I thought we were rolling,” Sanchez said, repeating a mantra about how quickly the offense was working, though one must not confuse tempo with execution.

Kelly seemed to note the distinction. “He had a couple of high throws,” the coach observed. “He’s got to get his feet set a little bit.”

As for Tebow, he had to quiet the crowd down with his hands — I swear — when lined up in shotgun for his first snap.

“I was thankful (for the salute),” Tebow said. “But I was also like, ‘They won’t be able to hear me (at the line of scrimmage).”

He converted a long third down for 15 yards over the middle, but then followed it up with a botched exchange in the shotgun, then chucked it back downfield for another nice gain. A roughing the passer penalty put the Eagles inside the red zone. Tebow took a keeper for 3 yards to the left sideline, threw a block on a designed run to the other side. A penalty then backed the Eagles up to 3rd-and-9, and after Tebow threw an incompletion, they ended up attempting a field goal (and blowing it).

The crowd came to life repeatedly in the second half of a mop-up opening exhibition game — credit Tebow for that much — and his second drive started backed up deep in his own territory. Again, operating out of the pistol, Tebow hit someone named Rasheed Bailey for 18 yards but that drive died with him under duress, darting and dodging to his left and right wildly before settling for an unsightly third-down sack. This, the crowd did not enjoy so much, and this is very much part of the Tebow package.

Kelly, however, offered a defense: “You also have to look at who is in, with who, you know what I mean. There was a difference in receivers with Matt than what with Timmy had. We had really a different lineup, so you have to take some of that in there. There are a couple of those where Timmy held the ball it looks like, ‘Why is he doing that?’ Well, the receiver ran the wrong route. He’s holding it for a receiver to run a shallow cross, but we didn’t get it to shallow cross … There were a couple of mental mistakes whether it was upfront (with the offensive line), or at the receiver spot.”


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