John Smallwood: Pass history dictates Kolb better be ready

Posted: September 04, 2008

FORGET ABOUT wondering whether Kevin Kolb is the successor to Donovan McNabb as the Eagles' quarterback of the future.

Of more pressing concern is whether Kolb is ready to be McNabb's replacement should the oft-injured starter go down at some point during this season.

Whether it is for one game or several games, the postseason goals of the Eagles could hinge on Kolb performing like Jeff Garcia rather than Mike McMahon should his chance come.

Kolb, whom the Eagles made their first overall pick (36th overall) in 2007, was elevated to No. 2 ahead of A.J. Feeley before minicamps.

He made his first career start in the Birds' preseason finale against the New York Jets.

"It was huge," the University of Houston alum said. "Although it's just preseason and the starters weren't there with me, it's still big for me.

"It breaks me in slowly to hopefully what I am going to be one day. The biggest thing now is to not regress. I've gotten progressively better. I just can't regress when I'm sitting on the sidelines. I have to make sure I get plenty of reps in practice and keep my part."

If Birds fans are lucky, it will be Kolb's last start this season because that will mean McNabb is playing well and staying healthy and the Eagles are having success.

Recent history does not make that a safe bet.

In 2005, the Eagles were 4-5 when McNabb finally succumbed to the pain of playing with a sports hernia. Any chance of a rally was squashed by the forgettable skills of McMahon.

In 2006, the Birds were 5-4 when McNabb shredded his knee. They dropped to 5-6 before the savvy Garcia guided them to six straight wins and a playoff victory. That earned Garcia a free-agent ticket to Tampa Bay.

Last season, the Eagles' slim playoff chances slipped away when Feeley, subbing for a beat- up McNabb, threw seven interceptions during critical losses to New England and Seattle.

The Eagles finished 8-8. The Redskins got the last wild-card spot at 9-7.

The backup quarterback position matters, and with the Birds figuring to be in another close fight for the playoffs, Kolb will have the burden to perform if it comes to that.

"Kevin is ready to play," coach Andy Reid said. "I have no problem putting Kevin in a game right now. He'll do a good job.

"He's playing good football. I would even take it to the first couple of weeks of camp. He struggled with a couple of things, but he worked through that. He didn't get down on himself, and he came to camp in a real positive way."

Making the decision to go with Kolb right away has been crucial to his development.

In the Eagles' system, the backup quarterback receives limited snaps, so the third guy barely gets any work. Because Kolb has gotten more repetitions in practice and played more in preseason games, his learning curve has been accelerated.

"Experience," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, said of Kolb. "That's the biggest thing there. Within the experience, the reps that he's seen. He's been through a full year, and going into your second year most players are a little bit more comfortable with the system and the players around him. He can anticipate the upcoming events a little better.

"He's had an excellent offseason and a real good training camp. If you remember last preseason, he led the league in attempts by a bunch and that was the plan. This year he's had plenty of action and he's certainly been impressive in most situations."

Kolb had a solid if not spectacular preseason.

But the real test won't come unless Kolb has the pop quiz that nobody wants to see him take.

If McNabb gets hurt, Kolb will instantly go from the most popular player in town to the one sitting on the hottest of hot seats.

"I feel very confident, definitely as confident as I have ever been here in Philadelphia," Kolb said. "The offense is coming smoothly, things are coming great. The coaches are doing a great job play-calling for me.

"I think [there is] no doubt that I'm ready to go. I think I have progressed every game throughout the preseason. That was my goal. If I continue to do that, then hopefully I'll have a great career here."

Frankly, now is not the time to be all that concerned about Kolb's long-term prospects with the Eagles.

The immediate concern is that he's ready to play right now should it become necessary. *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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