- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Philadelphia does not always fully embrace its star athletes. Donovan McNabb, for one. And by all standards he was a pretty good quarterback. Folks in the Eagles' organization think Kevin Kolb is pretty good too. The fans? They're not so quick to commit. You could hear the whispers of doubt in the stands at Lehigh University on the first day of camp. The die-hards might not have loved McNabb, but they were pretty sure he was going to take them to the playoffs every year. No one can say that with certainty about the new guy. Why let a 33-year-old QB who'd led the team to five conference title games go for a player who's started two games in three seasons? One whose name is even hard to figure? (It's pronounced Cobb.)
All of August, Kolb has been addressing those concerns. His strength is supposed to be the short pass, the ability to put the ball where playmakers want it. But on the second throw of that very first practice, he hits DeSean Jackson for a 70-yard touchdown. "People keep calling me a West Coast quarterback," Kolb says, "but I think I can do a lot more."
After a string of completions, however, Kolb fires the ball directly into linebacker Stewart Bradley's chest for an interception, and 8,000 fans hold their breath. McNabb has the third-best interception ratio in NFL history; Kolb has thrown just 130 passes in NFL games—and already has had two interceptions returned for touchdowns of more than 95 yards.
He's going to make mistakes. Though Kolb is a quick study, there's a lot he hasn't seen yet, and he'll throw into dangerous places more often than McNabb. But when McNabb hit rough patches, things tended to deteriorate quickly. Last season, in successive blowout losses to Dallas in the regular-season finale and wild-card playoffs, McNabb spiraled down after early miscues. In the wake of the first Cowboys loss he caused a stir in Philly by seeming to place blame on his young receiving corps: "We showed our youth in situations where everyone began to look around to see who was going to make the play, instead of stepping up." Back at practice, Kolb isn't blaming anyone but himself for hitting Bradley between the numbers. The fastest he has moved all morning was chasing the linebacker down on the return.
And he's not the type to dwell on a mistake. On the next play Kolb steps into pressure and lofts the ball 50 yards into what seems like an empty area. At the last moment Jackson glides past two defenders and stretches out for the diving catch.
Relax, Philly. Nothing to see here. Different quarterback, same Eagles offense. On to the next play. "One of the things that makes me feel good about Kevin is he's a pretty cool cucumber," coach Andy Reid says. "He doesn't get too high or too low. You saw it today. He's able to shake things off. You have to have that short memory as a quarterback."
Kolb wears number 4, like another southern quarterback with whom Reid worked, and he has a hint of that Brett Favre confidence as he talks after practice about the Bradley interception. "What makes me mad is that, presnap, I knew the look," Kolb says. "I knew it was coming. I just got a little greedy. It happens when you start to feel it."
A three-year starter at Texas 4A powerhouse Stephenville High, Kolb had committed to Oklahoma State but switched to Houston when his former coach Art Briles (now at Baylor) took over the Cougars. Kolb knew he could put up huge numbers in Briles's system and didn't care that Houston had a reputation for creating quarterbacks who disappointed at the next level because, he says, "I never had an eye on the NFL." But after he threw 25 touchdowns and just six picks as a freshman in 2003, his eyes began to open to a bigger world. "I was shocked when I started hearing J.P. Losman [another Conference USA quarterback, from Tulane] was going to be a first-round pick," Kolb says. "I started thinking, Wow, maybe I can too."
Kolb had played in front of large crowds on Friday nights at Stephenville, so starting in Division I as a freshman never fazed him. Briles waited until just before the first game to break the news to his young quarterback, so there'd be no time to worry. "I told Kevin, and he said, 'O.K.' I took about 10 steps and then came back to make sure I'd been clear, because he didn't really react. He just said, 'I heard you, Coach. Let's go.'"
Reid got a similar response on April 4 when he informed Kolb that the Eagles had traded McNabb. As Kolb describes it, "He called me 20 minutes before the news broke on ESPN. He said, 'Hey, buddy, I just made you starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.' I said, 'Great.' That was about it." Over the following months, quarterback and coach texted each other to get fired up and exchange barbs. "Coach is a funny dude," says Kolb. "We make each other laugh."