KEVIN KOLB understands your puzzlement.

Kolb heard the boos when his name was announced as the Eagles' initial selection in the 2007 NFL draft.

"It didn't bother me at all,'' Houston quarterback Kolb, whose name is pronounced "Cobb,'' said yesterday, his first day in residence as the Birds' quarterback of the future. "To be totally honest, I was a little bit shocked, so why wouldn't they be? I think they just were not expecting [the team] to take a quarterback that high. I think they need to trust coach [Andy] Reid's opinion and his decision. He senses something that can fit well. They have a plan for the future, and now it's time to go on with that plan.''

One problem there is, the notion that the Eagles had a plan for the future at the quarterback position beyond A.J. Feeley and Kelly Holcomb - and that it was "time to go on with that plan'' in a dramatic way - was big news to pretty much everyone.

Including Donovan McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith.

"That's an understatement,'' Smith said minutes after the pick was made, when the Daily News asked him if he was shocked. Smith said he hadn't talked to McNabb yet. "It caught me off guard. I don't know what to make of it.''

Smith said he understood that "at some point'' the Eagles would have to look at the future; indeed, McNabb himself, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, said in an ESPN radio interview a month ago that he expected the Eagles to draft a quarterback this year. But McNabb probably wasn't thinking that would happen with the very first pick.

His agent surely wasn't. Smith, like many Eagles fans, wondered aloud Saturday how it was that the Eagles "were that good, not to address other positions'' before quarterback.

In the radio interview last month, after McNabb listed a QB among the team's needs, he was asked how comfortable he would be if such a player was drafted. McNabb, 30, said: "I'm the quarterback of the team, and I will continue to be, but I think it's important that we begin to groom somebody for 15, 20 years down the road . . . If they come out at 23 years old, they can play at about 43.'' His interviewers laughed.

That's probably not quite the timeline Reid or Kolb has in mind, despite Reid's contention that McNabb "doesn't have anything to worry about.''

Kolb, who showed poise and diplomacy in his first encounter with the Philadelphia media, expressed eagerness to learn from McNabb and said: "I want to soak it in for as long as it takes, and I will be patient. I am a reasonable guy. I understand the situation I'm in. They have a franchise quarterback right now and he's a good one. He's better than me right now. I'll just keep competing, and when my day comes I'll be able to jump in, mentally and physically.''

Reid said Saturday he'd tried to get in touch with McNabb, and had left him a "don't worry'' message. Curiously, at just about the same time, ESPN's Michael Smith said on the air that he had exchanged e-mails with McNabb, and that McNabb was "befuddled.'' Last evening, Reid said he still had not spoken with McNabb. (So, Andy Reid can't get a word with his quarterback, but Michael Smith can?)

Reid stressed that this pick had nothing to do with McNabb's rehab of his ACL injury. He said McNabb should be able to participate when training camp begins July 27. For minicamps, the QBs apparently will be Feeley, Holcomb and Kolb.

The bottom line on how the pick came about seemed to be that the Birds were ready to draft a corner or a safety if any of four or five players was available when their turn came in the first round, 26th overall. All of those players vanished between the 18th and 24th picks, the last being Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, who went to the Patriots. Jeffrey Lurie then called Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the Eagles moved out of the first round, in exchange for a second-rounder (the Kolb pick), plus an extra third (87th) and another fifth (159th).

None of that was particularly shocking, except for maybe the part about trading with the hated Cowboys, something that hadn't happened since 1997, when a deal with Dallas allowed the Birds to draft Jon Harris, coincidentally the team's most widely unforeseen first pick before Saturday. (At least, Lurie, Reid and general manager Tom Heckert hope the parallel with Harris is coincidence.) What the Eagles did with that 36th pick was shocking.

The Eagles would have us believe that they just happened to pick Kolb because, well, they had him rated highly and they didn't feel they had a pressing need elsewhere and when Pick 36 arrived, there he sat. The truth might be a bit more complicated - Kolb visited Philadelphia for a workout, a few days after offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur trekked to Houston to work him out. Shurmur worked out several QBs this year, but Mornhinweg accompanied him only on this trip. Reid said he'd "just kind of kept my eye on'' Kolb over the years.

Some of the early draft material rated Kolb as a fourth- or fifth-round selection, but that changed as the draft approached. In a Friday column on ESPN.com, analyst Len Pasquarelli suggested Kolb would go early in the second round. At least some members of the Eagles' brain trust rated him the second QB in the draft, behind No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, ahead of Brady Quinn, who ended up dropping to 22nd. In hindsight, it's hard to believe the Birds didn't think they would end up getting Kolb Saturday, whether or not they anticipated doing it with their first pick.

University of Houston coach Art Briles predicted yesterday that Kolb will help Eagles fans get over their surprise.

"They're going to fall in love with him,'' Briles said. "I think it's a great decision by the organization. They studied him a long time and did their homework on him. He's a guy that's going to play a long time and have a great career in the NFL.''

Briles coached Stephenville (Texas) High School, about 70 miles west of Fort Worth, until Kolb's freshman year there. He left to be an assistant at Texas Tech, then got the top job at Houston after the 2002 season, as Kolb was coming out of high school. Kolb had committed to Oklahoma State, but when given the chance to run his high school offense for Briles at Houston, he asked to be released from his commitment and signed with the Cougars.

That led to perhaps the biggest knock against the 6-3, 218-pound QB - he might be a product of a particular pass-happy system, instead of a great natural talent. Some observers were quick to lump him in with long-ago Houston QBs David Klingler and Andre Ware, record-setters who didn't make it in the NFL, though Kolb noted that they played in a very different system.

"He got to show his athleticism,'' Briles said, defending his system's suitability for training NFL QBs, despite its heavy reliance on the shotgun. "I can teach a 16-year-old to take a three-step, five-step drop and throw a timing route. I can't teach a guy to think on his feet and play with athleticism and make plays on the open field. I think Kevin had the opportunity with our team to make plays, mentally and physically. A lot of other guys are locked into progression reads. I think the transition from what we do to the NFL is going to be a smooth transition for him because of what he's been asked to do at the collegiate level.''

Briles credits Kolb with "unmatched character, a positive, humble attitude, a drive to succeed . . . [he's] extremely intelligent, very competitive, very composed. If there's an intangible, he's got it.''

Kolb said he led a very "Friday Night Lights'' life growing up in several Texas towns as the son of a coach and a teacher. He was a Cowboys fan, something he quickly realized Saturday he needed to de-emphasize. His dad currently runs an RV park. In February, Kolb married Whitney, his high school sweetheart, a development Briles felt showed "how grounded Kevin is.''

Briles portrayed Kolb as a confident leader who leaves little not to like.

"When he walks,'' Briles said, "there's not any baggage dragging behind him.'' *