Matt Barkley knows that his NFL career so far has been defined by his two mid-season emergency stints last year against the Giants and Cowboys.
He knows Eagles fans don’t consider that he didn’t get any practice reps either week and was working with receivers he hadn’t practiced with.
All they remember is no touchdowns, four interceptions, three fumbles (one lost) and no points in 46 attempts.
So his start Thursday night against the Jets in the Eagles’ final preseason game becomes not just a chance to impress his coaches and teammates, but a rare chance to show fans that the guy they saw last October isn’t the real Matt Barkley.
“Absolutely,” Barkley said after practice Saturday. “Their only glimpse of me has been not the best situation and not the best showing from me.
“And even in my college days [at USC], I wouldn’t expect they’d see a lot of our games because of the time difference and all that stuff, so I’m excited to show our fans what I’m capable of and my arm and just moving the ball down the field.”
Last year, Barkley became only the seventh NFL quarterback in the last 22 years to throw four or more interceptions in a season with under 50 attempts. Among the others: Kevin Kolb.
But he’s been appreciably better this summer, and head coach Chip Kelly said Saturday that Barkley will start and play most of the game when the Eagles finish the preseason with a 7:30 p.m. tilt against the Jets at the Linc.
Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, who are a combined 58 for 79, won’t play. Kelly said none of the Eagles’ starters will.
“We need to see Matt play a lot,” Kelly said. “I think we feel comfortable in what Mark Sanchez has done in the first three games. We want to see Matt play for an extended period of time.
“I know Matt's gotten in there into the twos, some three work. I think he's done a really nice job. But we kind of thought about it as a staff, and I think Mark is 25 of 31 [81 percent] and has led us on a lot of scoring drives.
“We feel very comfortable with our one and two quarterbacks. So we're going to give Matt a really extended look against the Jets on Thursday night.”
Barkley has been productive so far in the preseason. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes, up from 51 percent last preseason, with touchdown passes of 14 yards to David Fluellen in Chicago and 27 yards to Henry Josey in Foxborough. He engineered the 77-yard drive Thursday vs. the Steelers that got down to the 13-yard line, but resulted in a missed Alex Henery 31-yard field goal.
He has thrown two interceptions, but neither was really his fault. Overall, he’s looked more in command and more comfortable than a year ago.
“I think I’ve made a lot of big strides since last year at this time,” he said. “Health-wise, my knowledge of the offense, just my comfort with the receivers that we have. I’ve come a long way since that time.
“Really pleased how we’ve been able to move the ball down the field when I’ve been in, whether it’s with the screens or the running game has been on fire. I’m really proud of the two-line, they’ve done a tremendous job and the receiving corps, too.”
Barkley, sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2011 and the first pick of the fourth round in 2013, is 20 for 32 for 242 yards so far this preseason.
He’ll likely play as much Thursday night as he has in the first three preseason games combined — five drives against the Bears, four against the Patriots and one vs. the Steelers.
“I’m not trying to do too much or be over the top,” he said. “Just be precise, be accurate, get the ball out on time, make good decisions.
“What it boils down to hopefully big plays will come if I just stick to being methodical with my thought process, not trying to force any balls down the field and make a big play but take it when it comes, take the shallow routes when they come, and just let the game take care of itself.”
How different has Barkley looked?
Nobody has had a better perspective on his improvement than Foles, who spends half of every day with him.
“Matt looks great,” Foles said. “He’s done a great job through OTAs, through training camp and through the preseason. You can see a night-and-day difference.
“He just looks a lot more comfortable. He knows where he’s going with the ball and he delivers it with accuracy and precision, and you can see the confidence out there. He’s a great leader. I’m excited to see him play.”
This could be the last we see of Barkley for a year. If Foles and Sanchez stay healthy, Barkley won’t get off the bench.
But the No. 3 has been known to play on occasion in key spots. Barkley last year, Mike Kafka in 2011, Koy Detmer in 2002 and 2005, for example.
“I think it’s a big opportunity, like this whole preseason has been,” Barkley said. “I feel every chance you get to go out and show what you’re capable of in a game-like setting is an opportunity.
“So I’m not making it bigger than I should, I’m treating it like I’ve been a starter before, I know how to prepare for a game. It’s exciting to get back into that feeling of knowing you’re a starter going into a game, but it’s nothing too big for me.
“I’m just going to approach it like I have been and trust the system that Chip has in place.”