Sam Donnellon: Eagles QB Kolb has to show leadership skills in huddle

Kevin Kolb, the new starting quarterback for the Eagles, credits being the son of a coach for much of his approach to directing his team, both in the huddle and on the field.
Kevin Kolb, the new starting quarterback for the Eagles, credits being the son of a coach for much of his approach to directing his team, both in the huddle and on the field.
Posted: August 17, 2010

BETHLEHEM - They went "live" again during Eagles practice yesterday, which meant that Brent Celek got his bell rung by Ernie Sims and Asante Samuel talked incessantly about "manning up." It was spirited, it was fun, but after each play, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg stood behind the offense like PAL coaches and told Kevin Kolb what play to run.

They won't be able to do that in Cincinnati on Friday night just as they weren't able to do it last Friday night against Jacksonville at Lincoln Financial Field. And that is the last intriguing piece to this long-awaited changing of the guard.

The talk, so far, has centered on Kolb's touch and Kolb's accuracy, and how it will make the Eagles' offense operate more efficiently. If he can translate his training-camp and preseason throws, it will. But just as important, if not more so, will be Kolb's ability to receive, digest and spit out the calls radioed in from the sideline, particularly on critical down-and-distance plays.

"Some quarterbacks are very good at managing the huddle," Mornhinweg, the Eagles' offensive coordinator, said after practice yesterday. "Others aren't so good. Others are great at the line of scrimmage, but maybe not as good in the huddle."

He is walking a fine line here, of course, trying to praise his new helmsman without slamming the one shown the door after 11 seasons. But stories of Donovan McNabb's huddle struggles have trickled out over the years, struggles about comprehension and about relaying things clearly and authoritatively in the huddle. It led to infamous timeouts at several critical junctures over the years, timeouts as often blamed on elaborate play calls by Reid and Mornhinweg as they were on the playcaller.

We should find out this season who was more to blame, quarterback or coaches.

To that end, Kolb will wear a playcard on his wrist. McNabb never wore one.

"For whatever reason," Mornhinweg said. Too much to process? An image thing? Maybe once upon a time, when Tom Matte stepped in for Johnny Unitas, wearing the plays on your sleeve might have suggested a lack of study skills. But these days, more than half of the NFL quarterbacks have some type of menu on their arms. Mornhinweg estimates it is about 75 percent.

The son of a coach, Kolb likes the list on his arm.

"First of all, it's a security valve for us," he said. "Because if something does happen and all of a sudden it doesn't click, instead of having to get it from Marty again, we already know the number - boom. That saves 4 or 5 seconds."

The card on his arm is really a six-page playbook. And yet the idea is to simplify and streamline. Kolb is supposed to hear the call, check it on his wrist, then sell it in the huddle with conviction. All that while keeping an eye on the play clock.

"If it's a guy's play, I'll look him right in the eye and point to him," Kolb said. "So he knows. This is on you. And I think it clicks a little bit better."

Consider those first drives in Friday's preseason opener. There was tempo, Kolb said, and some confusion on the other side.

"You know, people talked about us being crisp and fast," he said. "And it's not just with your route running. Most people got that from the fact that we were moving in a hurry and all of a sudden, bam, it was 3 minutes and eight plays.

"One thing I've always tried to do, and I think it starts from my dad, is to take a coach's perspective into the huddle. I don't think, as a player, you want to just go run the play. Still read it out, but know what you're trying to get out of this formation and out of this play. With that being said, you also see the tempo side of it, why coaches want you in and out of that huddle . . .

"See if you can't get that defense scrambling a little bit and miss assignments."

They didn't do much of that yesterday, mostly because the two coaches were back there, because tempo was not the aim of the exercise.

But if precision is the protein of the West Coast approach, tempo is its carbs. Right now, Kolb sees this through the eyes of the coaches he's stood beside for his first three seasons. It will be interesting and entertaining to see whether that perspective alters as he spends more time on the other side of that radio. *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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