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Bob Ford: Confident Kolb does a slow burn

He believes he's better than he's looked.

Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb runs the Baltimore Ravenson. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb runs the Baltimore Ravenson. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)Read more

From deep inside the bunker, there is no indication the Eagles organization has wavered in its standing description of backup quarterback Kevin Kolb.

The description is simple, if a bit open-ended. It reads: This is the quarterback of the future, whenever that might be.

Officially, there is no air leaking from the balloon, even through Kolb has been underwhelming this season, throwing four interceptions in 34 pass attempts, including two during his extended audition against the Baltimore Ravens four weeks ago.

He threw another interception Monday night during mop-up duty against the Browns, and, like one of the Baltimore interceptions, it was returned for a touchdown. If Kolb were a hockey player, his plus-minus wouldn't be good right now.

None of this sits too well with Kolb, a 24-year-old with a strong arm and a healthy confidence. He is doing a slow, quiet burn, like the campfires out on the prairie west of Fort Worth. When he talks about the botched opportunities, the hot embers are alive in his eyes.

"Obviously, I'm upset," he said after practice last week. "No one wants to get in there and do what I've done, but there were some miscues there. My job is to go in there and run the clock out and get some first downs, and that's not what happened."

Of all the aimless speculation that has emerged from this strange season, the most intriguing what-if is this one: What if Kevin Kolb had not only led the Eagles to a win against the Ravens when he replaced a flailing Donovan McNabb at halftime, but had also done so in spectacular fashion?

You can argue it either way - the true beauty of aimless speculation - but it is possible Kolb would now be the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead, his play while a three-point deficit became a 36-7 loss made it easy for Andy Reid to quickly reinstall McNabb and sell the step-back, step-forward analogy that limped badly at the time but has healed in the last few weeks.

Don't think that hasn't occurred to Kolb, who can't wait to prove his 3,809-yard, 30-touchdown senior season at the University of Houston wasn't a mirage conjured from equal parts gimmicky offense and Conference USA defense. He can't wait to get the nod from Reid and fulfill the destiny apparently set out for him when the Eagles took him as their first overall selection in the 2007 draft.

But wait is what he must do, and wait longer, perhaps, than he, McNabb, or anyone else in the organization might have imagined. At 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 23 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, it all teetered in the balance. But Kolb played poorly against the Ravens, McNabb has played very well in the three games since, and you can't blame Reid and the front office for being less than hasty to contemplate a more permanent switch.

Suddenly, the assumption that a change of eras at the quarterback position is imminent doesn't seem as certain. McNabb just turned 32, is throwing the ball extremely well, has stayed healthy this season and . . . the designated replacement keeps throwing interceptions.

Reid has shrugged past these questions, not surprisingly. He said that Kolb had been fine, a little bad luck here and there, but no problem. Protection broke down, for instance, and Kolb was hit as he delivered the interception by the Browns. These things happen.

Still, it would be a lot better for Kolb's ascension on the depth chart if they had not.

"I think a lot of guys know what happened, so they, along with the coaches, said, 'Move on,' Kolb said. "It shouldn't have been that difficult, though. I did it against St. Louis. We executed great and ran 91/2 minutes off the clock. It's not something that can't be done. I should get it done."

Eventually, the quarterback feels he will.

"I'm not short on confidence, if that's what you're asking," he said.

But it might not happen on the timetable he envisioned, and, if McNabb hangs around long enough, it might not even happen here.

"I understand the situation," Kolb said. "In the NFL, every time you go out, it's an audition, not only for your own team, but for every other team. I like to do well every time I step out there, regardless if it's handing the ball off seven times or throwing it 15 times."

His situation has not been easy, maybe not fair at all. The backup quarterback never gets any repetitions in practice with the first team. He was thrown in against a great Baltimore defense and suffered the predictable consequences. He was out there against Cleveland with Winston Justice watching his back.

Still, as Kolb is the first to admit, through teeth clenched from the frustration, the bottom line is that he didn't get it done.

"I know my shot will come," he said, "and when it does, they will see the true me."

The Eagles just hope they haven't already.