Kafka might be ahead of Young as Eagles backup

"He was one of the bright spots of our last game," Andy Reid said about Mike Kafka. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer)
"He was one of the bright spots of our last game," Andy Reid said about Mike Kafka. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2011

THE QUESTION for today, boys and girls, isn't whether Michael Vick can stay healthy this season. I think we're pretty unanimous here in agreeing that he can't.

At some point, maybe in Week 1, maybe in Week 5 or 6, or 12 or 13, he will get hurt, because, well, he's a 6-foot, 215-pound quarterback with a 6-6, 320-pound mentality. We saw that in last week's exhibition game when he foolishly took on Troy Polamalu after the second of his three interceptions against the Steelers. We saw it time and time again last season on many of his 100 rushing attempts.

The question for today is whether the Eagles can survive without Vick when he does go down, particularly if he is out for an extended period.

They signed Vince Young late last month for just such an eventuality. But Andy Reid's offense isn't an easy read, even for a guy with 47 NFL starts.

When the Eagles traded Kevin Kolb to Arizona last month, they picked up a hell of a young cornerback - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - and a second-round chip in next year's draft poker game. They also gave up a valuable life insurance policy at quarterback.

If there hadn't been a lockout, and the Eagles had signed Young in March or April, and Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson had been able to spend all spring tutoring Young and getting him up to speed, this would have been a great get.

Now? Well, despite Young's insistence that it's "just a matter of getting the terminology down and letting it flow," I'm concerned about his readiness to replace Vick anytime in the near future. He's had more downs than ups, both on the practice field and in the Eagles' first two preseason games.

"We'll see how quickly Vince is coming, and that's a hard thing in this system without an offseason," Mornhinweg acknowledged this week. "So, he's doing everything possible to get himself ready to play at a high level. Doug is working hard, hard, hard on that with him."

In Martyspeak, three hards equals genuine concern.

Which brings us to Mike Kafka.

Few considered the second-year quarterback out of Northwestern as a legitimate backup candidate to Vick, even before the Eagles signed Young.

But he has played pretty well in the Eagles' first two preseason games, including an impressive 14-for-19, two-touchdown performance against the Steelers' deep backups.

Both Reid and Mornhinweg have been properly complimentary of their 2010 fourth-round pick.

"Let me tell you, he's done a nice job," Reid said. "He was one of the bright spots of our last game."

Said Mornhinweg: "Mike really has . . . he did a fine job last year. He made a big jump, because he did a lot of hard work in the offseason without us. He did a lot of hard work on his own, and he's done some excellent thing on the field, as well."

There is an unsaid "but" there, of course.

Unlike Young, Kafka's biggest shortcoming isn't his familiarity with the offense. Hell, the kid knows it nearly as well as Marty and Big Red. The question with him is his arm.

You don't need a Mike Vick or Donovan McNabb cannon to be a successful NFL quarterback. But you need an arm strong enough to be able to make all of the throws you need to make in a game. You need a fastball with enough velocity to zip passes into tight spots, a fastball with enough velocity to prevent corners and safeties from jumping in front of your intended target after the ball is in the air and intercepting it.

Late in the second quarter of the preseason game against Baltimore 2 weeks ago, Kafka threw a ball down the seam to wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins. Higgins got behind the secondary and was open. It was absolutely the right throw to make. But Kafka's pass was short, and Ravens safety Bernard Pollard intercepted it.

If it had been Kafka's only underthrown pass this summer, you'd say no big deal. But it hasn't been. Watching the kid throw deep outs from the pocket in practice is painful. It looks like one of those NFL Films slow-motion spirals, except the defensive players are playing at full speed. But it's the arm God gave Kafka and he is determined to prove it's plenty strong enough to play in the NFL.

"You can't really worry about what other opinions are of you," Kafka said. "You just have to believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself. I was taught by my coaches at a young age to have confidence in yourself. If you don't worry about that other stuff, it won't affect you."

Kafka has an impressive .711 completion percentage and 99.9 passer rating in the preseason. If he'd been able to get more oomph on that pass to Higgins, his passer rating would be 125.5 right now. Either way, he's played pretty well.

Well enough to beat out Young for the backup job? We'll see.

"That's the only way you can approach it," Kafka said. "Take advantage of the opportunities you have and play as hard and perform as well as you can."

As long as Vick remains healthy, the Eagles don't have to publicly make a decision on a backup. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, active rosters are increased from 45 players to 46 and the emergency-quarterback rule was deep-sixed.

Assuming the Eagles will activate both Young and Kafka each week - a pretty safe assumption - they don't have to decide on a backup until Vick goes down and they have to send someone else into the game.

If he goes down in Week 1, my sense, based on Young's low comfort level with the offense right now, is that they would turn to Kafka. Whether that changes in October or November, we'll see.

"Last year was crucial for me," said Kafka, the Eagles' No. 3 quarterback behind Vick and Kolb in 2010. "Between the first and second years is when you usually make your biggest strides.

"Having last year, going through the entire year, seeing Mike do very well and learning from him, it was a great experience. I was pretty fortunate to get that."


For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PDomo.

 

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