Barkley qui­etly play­ing lights out

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Matt Skurski

Josh Allen gar­nered the head­lines Fri­day night for good rea­son.

The Buf­falo Bills’ sec­ond-year quar­ter­back was su­perb against the Carolina Pan­thers, com­plet­ing 9 of 11 passes for 102 yards. Allen wasn’t the Bills’ only quar­ter­back to play lights out, though.

Backup Matt Barkley had his sec­ond straight stel­lar pre­sea­son per­for­mance, going 8 of 10 for 110 yards, one touch­down and a passer rat­ing of 145.8. In two ex­hi­bi­tion games, Barkley is 17 of 24 (70.8 com­ple­tion per­cent­age) for 236 yards and two touch­downs. His passer rat­ing of 129.9 would rank third in the NFL in the pre­sea­son if Barkley qual­i­fied (a player needs at least 14 at­tempts per their team’s games played, so he falls one short).

“It’s good to have Matt,” Bills coach Sean McDer­mott said of the for­mer Ea­gles QB. “I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate not only the way he played, but his work — his lead­er­ship on this foot­ball team — with Josh and [Tyree Jack­son]. That’s an im­por­tant piece at the backup quar­ter­back po­si­tion. He’s done a real nice job to this point.”

Af­ter all the tur­moil the Bills went through at quar­ter­back early in the 2018 sea­son — trad­ing A.J. McCar­ron, nam­ing Nathan Peter­man the starter, watch­ing Allen go down with an el­bow in­jury — this year has been, frankly, a lit­tle bor­ing at the po­si­tion. That’s of course just how the team wants it.

Allen is on firm ground as starter, Barkley is the trusted vet­eran backup and third-stringer Jack­son is the de­vel­op­men­tal prospect — even if early re­turns on that have not been good.

“You see it more and more around the league, how much value teams place in that guy,” rookie re­ceiver David Sills V said of backup quar­ter­back. “Matt has been play­ing re­ally good foot­ball lately . ... It’s def­i­nitely some­thing an of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, head coach, the rest of the team, they love to see it be­cause they gain the con­fi­dence and trust in Matt that, if any­thing were to hap­pen, he could come in and not miss a step.”

Barkley did that in his only reg­u­larsea­son ap­pear­ance with the Bills to date. He torched the Jets in a 41-10 win dur­ing Week 10 of the 2018 sea­son, going 15 of 25 for 232 yards and two touch­downs — num­bers that are nearly iden­ti­cal to what he’s pro­duced in two pre­sea­son games this year.

Given the jour­ney­man na­ture of his NFL career to this point, it’s easy to for­get that Barkley was once one of the big­gest quar­ter­backs in the na­tion. While at USC, he be­came the first true fresh­man in pro­gram his­tory to start a sea­son opener. The next week, he led a game-win­ning, 86-yard drive to help the Tro­jans de­feat Ohio State.

Barkley’s best col­lege sea­son came in 2011 as a ju­nior, when he was named the Col­lege Foot­ball Per­for­mance Awards’ Na­tional Per­former of the Year af­ter set­ting a Pac-12 sin­gle­sea­son record with 39 pass­ing touch­downs in 12 games, dur­ing which the Tro­jans went 10-2.

“When I was a kid, that was pretty cool for me to see,” Sills said of Barkley’s USC career. “Now play­ing with him is re­ally cool. He’s one of those guys — he’s been in the league for a while. He’s try­ing to give all his in­for­ma­tion to the younger guys to help them with their process and jour­ney.”

Barkley, 28, still has just 12 games of NFL ex­pe­ri­ence but has been with six dif­fer­ent teams, giv­ing him plenty of prior knowl­edge on which to draw. He’s also had the ben­e­fit now of going through an en­tire off­sea­son with one team, al­low­ing him to fully di­gest of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian Daboll’s system.

“That time helps,” Barkley said in the vic­to­ri­ous locker room Fri­day night. “We have a good group of guys on that sec­ond group . ... This whole off­sea­son and the time I’ve got in the of­fense has def­i­nitely helped at this point.”

Barkley started his postgame in­ter­view lament­ing the two throws he missed against the Pan­thers. Those aside, he once again looked to­tally in com­mand of the of­fense.

“Just try­ing to make smart de­ci­sions, play smart foot­ball,” he said. “Some­times that’s tak­ing what they give you and some­times it’s tak­ing a shot.”

That’s pre­cisely what the Bills have been work­ing with Allen on this off­sea­son. That was re­flected Fri­day in the per­for­mances of both of the team’s top two quar­ter­backs.

“We’ve got to take what the de­fense gives us in terms of whether it’s matchups or schemes,” McDer­mott said. “That con­tin­ues to show Josh’s de­vel­op­ment. It comes from his hard work. He’s been work­ing hard. Matt also, I thought, had a good night.

“When you prac­tice a cer­tain way, those habits trans­fer over to the game.”

GRANT HALVERSON/GETTY

Buf­falo’s Matt Barkley had his sec­ond straight stel­lar pre­sea­son per­for­mance last week against Carolina.

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