Paul Domowitch: Birds have faith in Kafka as Vick's backup

Eagles' QB coach Doug Pederson (left) says offseason tweaks have added zip to the passes of Mike Kafka (center), who could be the starter if Michael Vick (right) goes down. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Eagles' QB coach Doug Pederson (left) says offseason tweaks have added zip to the passes of Mike Kafka (center), who could be the starter if Michael Vick (right) goes down. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 27, 2012

BETHLEHEM — The man who likely will be a broken clavicle or torn rib cartilage away from the Eagles' starting quarterback job this season dropped back, set himself in the pocket, and heaved a deep pass downfield into a soft summer breeze for wide receiver Ron Johnson.

But the throw, like too many of Mike Kafka's long passes, came up short. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin, who trailed Johnson by a step when the ball left Kafka's hand, turned around and snagged the underthrown ball for an easy interception.

There is a lot to like about Kafka, there really is. The third-year quarterback out of Northwestern is a smart kid who knows Andy Reid's offense like Cesar Millan knows dogs.

He makes good decisions and gets the ball out. He's accurate with his short and intermediate throws. Throws a catchable ball. Can move around the pocket and throw on the move.

That's the good news.

The bad news is, his arm just isn't very strong.

You don't need a John Elway-like rifle to cut it in the National Football League, but you do need an arm that's strong enough to, as scouts like to say, make all of the throws, including the deep ball to DeSean Jackson and deep outs to Jeremy Maclin.

And when Kafka throws a pass like the one to Johnson or like that ill-advised deep ball to Jackson in their Week 3 loss to the Giants last season, it makes you wonder once again whether they can survive the loss of Vick for any significant duration this season.

Reid and general manager Howie Roseman did good job of battening down most of the positional hatches in the event of an injury hurricane this season. They've added depth to their defensive line and linebacking corps. They brought in veteran O.J. Atogwe to compete with Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett for the starting strong-safety job.

They added a pair of talented, young running backs to push Dion Lewis for the backup job behind LeSean McCoy. They added a couple of kick-return candidates. They brought in a veteran punter to compete with inconsistent second-year leg Chas Henry. They are looking to add veteran depth at tight end in case Brent Celek breaks down or Clay Harbor's development stalls.

Yet, at quarterback, the Eagles' plan seems to be to cross their fingers and hope against hope that Vick will somehow stay healthy and start 16 games.

They signed veteran Trent Edwards during the offseason, but he wasn't even in the league last year and was unimpressive in the spring OTAs and camp.

They drafted a strong-armed quarterback — Nick Foles — in the third round of the April draft. But it's a big jump from playing for a four-win college team (Arizona) to an NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations.

The leaves Kafka.

Two quick points here. One, as the Eagles found out last season with Vince Young, bringing in an experienced backup doesn't always work. And two, the Eagles hardly are the only team that could be in trouble if its starter goes down.

Aaron Rodgers' likely backup in Green Bay this season, Graham Harrell, has yet to attempt a regular-season pass. Drew Brees' backup in New Orleans, Chase Daniel, has attempted just eight passes. The Ravens, who made it to the AFC title game last season, have Tyrod Taylor and his one regular-season attempt backing up Joe Flacco.

The difference between the Eagles and those teams, though, is that their starting quarterbacks have proved to be considerably more durable than Vick.

If Reid and his coaching staff are worried about their team's ability to win games with Kafka behind center, they're doing a good job of hiding it. While Big Red has stressed the importance of Vick staying healthy, he and his staff also have expressed confidence in Kafka.

"He's matured so much this offseason," quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson said. "He did a really nice job in the OTAs and minicamps."

The Eagles coaches tinkered with Kafka's delivery during the offseason, lowering his arm in an attempt to get more velocity on his throws.

"When he first came here, he was really high over the top," Pederson said. "We've been trying to bring his arm down and let him utilize his lower body more. You generate velocity with your legs rather your arm. He's done a nice job with that."

Pederson insisted that Kafka's arm is plenty strong enough to play — and succeed — in the NFL, particularly in light of the other qualities he brings to the position.

"It's plenty strong," he said. "It really is. A guy like Mike Kafka, to me, intelligence goes a long way. Doing the right thing with the football. That's something he's good at. He doesn't make many mistakes. And if he does, he moves on."

Kafka knows he has his doubters out there. But he doesn't care. He's confident that if something happens to Vick, he can step in and play well.

"To a degree, [arm strength] is overrated," he said. "If you're able to throw on time and have great accuracy, a good throw will beat good coverage any time."

Kafka enters training camp as the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback, but he still must beat out Edwards. If neither of them plays well in camp and the preseason, it's always possible the Eagles might bring another quarterback in.

And here's a down-the-line scenario to consider: The Eagles open the season with Kafka as the No. 2 quarterback. In Week 3, Vick gets hurt and is going to be out for 5 to 6 weeks. Kafka becomes the starter, but plays poorly in his first start. And his second. The Eagles lose both games and feel the season slipping away.

A desperate Reid needs a quarterback who knows his offense and can step in immediately and start the next week. He scrolls down the "contacts" list on his iPhone to the M's.

"Hello? Donovan? This is Andy. Grab the next flight to Philly. We need you."

Crazier things have happened.

Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @PDomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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