Eagles' QB carousel leaves everyone guessing

October 3, 2009 3:07:24 PM PDT
Ready, set, name that quarterback. The Philadelphia Eagles are turning into the NFL's version of a game show. Coach Andy Reid's fascination with the wildcat formation has people guessing who might take the next snap.

Just three games in, four quarterbacks, two running backs and two wide receivers have lined up behind center. How long before a burly offensive lineman gets a shot? Left guard Nick Cole is quite nimble for a 350-pound guy. He certainly would be tough to bring down on fourth-and-inches.

With Donovan McNabb getting set to return from a rib injury that sidelined him the last two games, perhaps the QB carousel will slow down a bit. Kevin Kolb will return to his backup role after becoming the first player to throw for 300 yards in his first two career starts. McNabb will try to pick up where he left off in the season opener when he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score in a rout at Carolina.

But Reid plans to continue working Michael Vick into the offense. That means either McNabb or Vick could be out there for any play. Sometimes they'll be on the field together, with McNabb split wide and Vick taking the snap or vice versa. Sometimes McNabb will go to the sideline and Vick will run the offense.

Running backs Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy and wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin each have played QB in the wildcat formation, so any one of them could take a snap at any time.

In Philadelphia's 34-14 win over Kansas City last Sunday, Vick was on the field for 11 plays. He was the QB for 10. Kolb came out of the game when Vick was behind center - usually in a shotgun formation.

It's unlikely Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would take McNabb out that often, though it's possible. Vick suggested the game plan against the Chiefs was merely an appetizer.

"It was a very small look," Vick said. "We have so much still for the future. We just wanted to go out there and get some looks and see how they were going to play and not tip our hand to what we really wanted to do with this wildcat thing. We've got a lot of different variations and it's going to be exciting and I just want to contribute."

Vick, however, said the Eagles used him plenty in his first regular-season game in 33 months. He doesn't expect more plays, just different ones. Vick handed off seven times, ran once and threw two incomplete passes in his debut.

"I think 10-11 plays is ideal, depending on the flow of the game and the outcome of the game at that point in time," Vick said. "Some games are going to be different. Some games, it's going to be a defensive battle, some games are going to be a shootout. So, that's going to be part of the determining factor of how much we run the wildcat. So, will this be effective or ineffective? It still remains to be seen."

Though he fully endorsed Vick's signing, McNabb complained the wildcat disrupted the offense's rhythm in Vick's preseason debut and told coaches to shut it down. Jeff Garcia didn't like what he saw when the Eagles tried the wildcat nine times in a 48-22 loss to New Orleans in Week 2.

"It didn't look like the Eagles that we're used to seeing when Donovan is the quarterback," Garcia said. "The change-ups on the offense with the running backs and the receivers in the backfield, those gave us some decent plays, but that's not what we're used to seeing. For Kevin as a quarterback, it never really allowed him to kind of get in that rhythm we would like to see, and never got Westbrook really involved, either, and that's a big weapon for this team.

"Let's just go out and play football the way we're used to playing football."

Garcia doesn't have to worry about it anymore. He was released this week to make room for linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.

Reid has plenty of other critics, especially because the wildcat experiment hasn't been too productive. The nine wildcat plays against the Saints gained 44 yards. With Vick on the field for 11 plays against Kansas City, the Eagles totaled just 30 yards.

"We'll see how all that works," Reid said. "I don't think there is necessarily a set number (of plays) that you have to have."

Mornhinweg compared the wildcat to other running plays in which the quarterback becomes a spectator after handing off. The Eagles have always been a pass-happy team, so they're not going to stop throwing the ball to run the wildcat. They'll mostly use this formation in place of traditional running plays.

"Look, the rhythm thing, that's a real thing, there's no question about that," Mornhinweg said. "However, I suppose it depends on how you approach it with your mentality. Many times during a game, a quarterback hands the football off, so sometimes we have them out wide and these types of things. I think it really depends upon how you approach it mentally. There are really two ways: taking plays away or it's like a handoff."

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