THE EAGLES ARE preparing to finish the season the way they started it, with Kevin Kolb under center.
The part between Sept. 12 and this week hasn't exactly gone the way Kolb envisioned, though.
"Does it ever cross my mind? Sure," Kolb said yesterday, when asked if he ever thought about how things would have gone had Andy Reid stuck to his original plan, instead of making Michael Vick the starter after the Sept. 19 win at Detroit.
"But how do you argue with the way Mike's playing? I'm a big fan of his, like I always say. We're two totally different styles of quarterback, so you just never know where we'd be. I like where we're at with what he's done, obviously; he's earned a spot in the Pro Bowl."
As Kolb and the Eagles ready for a regular-season finale Sunday that is meaningless in the standings, Kolb has to be wondering if his all-but-official start this week, with Vick limping from a quad bruise, will be an audition for a future employer. He is under contract for next season, which Vick is not, right now, so it's hard to envision exactly what will happen. There would seem to be virtually no chance management will let Vick walk away, but if he ends up getting franchised or something, and no long-term pact is in place, the team might want to hold onto Kolb for 2011. Of course, Kolb's trade value will be at its peak this offseason, Kolb still under contract, having won NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors twice in six career starts.
"I like this team so much, and of course, I enjoy being around Mike so much, that I think it's an injustice to the team to put my focus anywhere else," said Kolb, who obviously had time to hone his answer to this slippery question, all those weeks he waited patiently for the throng of reporters to dissipate from around Vick's locker, so Kolb could get to his own adjoining stall, where he generally dressed uninterrupted. " 'Cause what happens if they call on me this week, in the playoffs, whatever. There's plenty of time for [pondering] that this offseason. When that time comes, I'll give it thought. But right now, I'm focusing on winning this next football game and hopefully, going on and winning the Super Bowl."
Kolb, 26, put together excellent back-to-back starts in wins at San Francisco and at home over Atlanta back in October. He was offensive POW for the Oct. 17 Atlanta game, the Eagles' most impressive victory of the season, in which Kolb completed 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a 133.6 passer rating. After those games, which Vick missed with a rib cartilage problem, people were speculating whether Reid would go back to Vick or stick with Kolb, who spent three seasons being groomed as Donovan McNabb's successor.
But Vick missed one more week, a 37-19 loss at Tennessee in which Kolb was considerably less effective, throwing a pair of interceptions and looking harried under constant pass-rush pressure. After that, there was no question who the quarterback would be coming out of the bye.
Kolb hasn't played since, except for some kneeldown time at the end of the Eagles' Nov. 15 blowout win at Washington.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday that Kolb "has gotten better and better and better," though most weeks, he gets no snaps with the first-team offense. "Of course, you know what I think about Kevin Kolb. I think he's going to be a terrific quarterback. I think he already is," Mornhinweg said. "I know he already is, and I think he's going to get better over the next several years or handful of years here. Better every day."
This week's situation, Kolb allowed, is "a little different. I don't read too far into things; I take it as it comes, and I treat this no different."
Asked about not having seen game action in more than 2 months, he said: "There's been some other times I've had to come in and do it. These [practice] days right here is what's very important, making sure that I'm totally prepared, the rhythm of the passing game is coming back to me. I'm sure we're going to have a few series in there that aren't clickin' quite like we want, but just make sure they're minimal and move on and hope we put a lot of points on the board."
One reason Reid went with Vick after Week 2 was that the offensive line hadn't come together the way the Eagles had hoped, with the Stacy Andrews project abruptly abandoned at the end of the preseason, and starting center Jamaal Jackson going on IR after the opener. Kolb, whose concussion suffered in the opener opened the door for Vick, can't know how he would have fared behind this line, had Reid kept him in there. Would he have held up the way Vick has? Would he be shell-shocked by now?
"One thing I've learned in this league is that every quarterback does it a little bit different. I'm sure that if I was in there, things would have been a little bit different here or there," Kolb said. "If taking a pounding was part of it, I'm willing to do that as a starting NFL quarterback."
Right tackle Winston Justice, who knows a few things about biding one's time, said he thinks Kolb "is approaching it fine, like a professional."
Does the team view Kolb differently now, than when he was the chosen one?
"No, completely the same," Justice said. "Kolb's a great quarterback, man. I think this team is fortunate enough to have two really good quarterbacks." *