Inside the Eagles: Is Kafka a winning option as backup quarterback for Eagles?

Posted: April 08, 2012

If Mike Kafka is indeed the Eagles' backup quarterback, odds are he'll start a few games this season.

The message boards have been up in arms over this possibility. Despite a small sample of throws, the third-year quarterback continues to fight the perception that he doesn't have an NFL arm.

"It depends on who's saying it. You know what I mean?" Kafka said Friday at the NovaCare Complex. "I don't really look that far into it because there's been plenty of great quarterbacks that couldn't throw the ball through a wall if they wanted to.

"There's actually a great quote by Joe Montana. He goes, 'I don't throw darts at balloons. I throw balloons at darts.'"

Kafka said he came across that quote while reading. He's made it his mantra. Balloons or darts, it's likely he'll throw more passes this year than his career total of 16.

In regular-season games over the last seven seasons, six Eagles backups have started a total of 24 games. The starts were split among Vince Young, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia, and Mike McMahon.

Their combined record, while a respectable 12-12, pales in comparison to the Eagles' mark (48-31-1) when the starter is healthy and finishes the game. In the eight instances in which the first team quarterback - Donovan McNabb, Kolb and Vick - could not finish his start, the Eagles went 2-6.

The point - an obvious one - is that Eagles coach Andy Reid would prefer his starter to remain healthy. Vick, it has been noted on occasion, has had trouble staying off the injury list. Reid has been adamant this offseason that Vick must place his safety above all else.

Even if Vick curtails his scrambling or doesn't hold onto the ball as long, there is no guarantee he will avoid injury. A few of his injuries have come in the pocket and within three seconds of the snap.

But for the sake of argument, let's give Vick the benefit of the doubt. Let's say he misses just one or two games in 2012 instead of the three he has averaged the last two seasons. One or two games, depending upon the backup, could be the difference between making the playoffs and not.

When the Eagles have had competent backups - Garcia, Kolb, Vick - seasons have been kept alive, even saved. When they have not, seasons have withered.

Which brings us back to Kafka, recently declared Vick's backup. He'll have competition from Trent Edwards, the former Bills starter who was signed in late February. The Eagles could take a quarterback high in this month's draft; they could even trade for one. But indications are that Reid intends to give his 2010 fourth-round draft pick every opportunity to win the job.

But is Kafka ready, or more to the point, good enough to guide the Eagles to a few victories in relief of Vick?

There isn't enough evidence to support either a yea or nay, although there are obvious concerns. Kafka saw his first NFL action when he was pressed into duty last season against the Falcons after Vick suffered a concussion.

With Young sidelined with a hamstring strain, Kafka was sharp, completing 7 of 9 passes for 72 yards. If it wasn't for a dropped pass by Jeremy Maclin, he may have pulled off the comeback.

The following week, he was called on after Vick injured his hand, but he underthrew his first pass and was intercepted, and later tossed another pick. When Vick briefly left the Washington game three weeks later, Reid went to the recuperated Young. A month later, when Vick missed three games with broken ribs, Young filled in again.

The Eagles went 1-2 in Young's starts. For the season, he threw nine interceptions in 114 passes, the worst percentage among quarterbacks with more than 100 throws. If Kafka couldn't supplant Young, thinking goes, what makes the Eagles think he'll beat out Edwards or some hotshot rookie?

Reid has said that Kafka will benefit from his first full offseason as a pro. The 24-year old, who projects seriousness, is aware of the importance of this. He spent the first three months of this year, as he typically does, training in Arizona, and has added 10 pounds of muscle, he said, and now weighs 235.

He returned to Philadelphia last week and has already organized informal practices with locally based receivers such as Jason Avant and Chad Hall. The Eagles aren't permitted to hold workouts until April 16.

As the backup, Kafka will get more repetitions than before. The Eagles have spent the first two years drilling him in the West Coast offense. Kafka hardly ever took a three-step drop in Northwestern's spread offense.

He started four games as a redshirt freshman, but suffered a hamstring injury and eventually lost his starting spot until he was a senior. So he has plenty of experience as a backup. During his junior season, he subbed for the starter and went 1-1. In a victory over a ranked Minnesota team, he ran for a Big Ten-record 217 yards.

But Kakfa could also chuck it. He threw nearly 500 passes as a senior, completing 65 percent of them, but the most common term used to describe his arm strength leading up to the 2010 draft was "adequate."

"I think I have a strong enough arm to make every throw," Kafka said. "That's all that matters."


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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