In Nick Foles' first preseason with the Eagles, injuries to the team's top two quarterbacks opened significant playing time and allowed him to earn the backup spot. In Foles' second preseason, he could not beat Michael Vick for the starting job and opened the season second on the depth chart.
Foles does not need to compete for a job in his third preseason, which begins Friday in Chicago against the Bears. That allows him to focus on areas of his game that he sought to improve. One major improvement will be unloading the ball quicker.
"This year, I really want to not take as many sacks, get rid of the ball faster, dump it down to the back earlier," Foles said Monday. "That's something I'll continue to work on the next few weeks."
Foles was sacked 27 times in 10 starts last season. If that total was extrapolated over 16 starts, Foles would have been sacked more than all but four NFL quarterbacks. Foles held onto the ball an average of 3.11 seconds before throwing, running, or getting sacked, which was the second longest among NFL starters.
The quarterback who held onto the ball longest was Seattle's Russell Wilson. So passing more quickly is not necessarily an indicator of success, but Foles is aware that it's an area where he can improve.
"There's times I could have gotten the ball out. I held it a little long," Foles said. "There's sometimes when there's no one open, and you've just got to eat it because if you throw it out there, a bad play can happen, and a guy can pick it, take it the other way. So sacks do happen."
During one sequence in Monday's practice, Foles took sacks on back-to-back plays - or what would have been sacks if it were a live game. He played with an undermanned receiver corps, which affected players getting open. But Foles also did not throw the ball away.
It's a delicate balance for the Eagles quarterback. He had only two interceptions last season, in part because he was smart with the football. The answer is not always throwing the ball away. In fact, Foles threw an ill-advised interception while trying to throw out of the back of the end zone in last year's second preseason game. It was the biggest blemish on his preseason.
Foles has the freedom to treat the preseason almost like an ace pitcher in spring training, when he can hone specific skills. Foles does not view the games this way - he said that's what practice is for - but he can treat the exhibition games as an opportunity for refinement instead of competing with someone. And when Foles discussed what he could accomplish this preseason, reducing his number of sacks and the amount of time he holds onto the ball were at the top of his list.
"A lot of the great quarterbacks do a great job of taking the short routes early - when they're there - and then attacking them deep later," Foles said.
Foles would like to be a great quarterback himself and get the chance to be paid like one. It remained a relevant topic on Monday, when Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton agreed to a six-year deal that could pay him $115 million. Dalton joined Colin Kaepernick as the second quarterback this offseason to receive a $100 million extension after his initial contract. Foles is eligible after this season.
"I've never worried about that," Foles said. "You just take care of business today, take care of business each and every day, and the rest will take care of itself, and you'll be taken care of."
The next order of business for Foles is Friday's game. Entrenched as a starter, he knows what he must work on.
Right now, though, he looks forward to "just getting back on the field in a game atmosphere, in a stadium, going full speed, getting hit, because we haven't been hit for a while."