BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Kevin Kolb Era is not upon us. Let's be extremely clear about that. In fact, as Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg noted yesterday, so far in training camp, Donovan McNabb has looked about as good as a man fewer than 9 months removed from right ACL surgery could possibly look.

But the rookie looks pretty darned solid, as well. He never seems bewildered or flustered. He isn't throwing the ball all over the place, to receivers who aren't there.

The first game of the preseason, in Baltimore a week from tonight, was going to be a bigger deal than usual, right from the moment the Eagles made Kolb their first selection in the 2007 entry draft, surprising McNabb and just about everyone else outside the NovaCare bunker. Maybe if Kolb had come in and looked lost, some of that extra juice would have drained away. But he hasn't and, well, here's part of what McNabb himself had to say yesterday:

"[Kolb] has asked questions [of the three veteran QBs] and I think he's responded well. I think he's showed he can handle pressure. It's going to be exciting in the preseason as he continues to progress, from the first game on."

Again, as long as McNabb stays healthy, there is no way Kolb gets on the field in 2007, or maybe even in 2008. But we all know what the history has been there. You watch Kolb in this training camp at least in part to try to figure out how loudly the clock is ticking on McNabb's tenure as he enters his ninth season.

"He's progressing very well," Mornhinweg said of Kolb. "He's [learning at] a fast clip here."

Asked why Kolb seems so poised, even though he's still pretty new to the West Coast offense, Mornhinweg pointed to Kolb's school-record 50 starts at Houston.

"He's pretty sharp . . . and he's had a lot of game experience. That was at the college level, but that experience is showing up a little bit," Mornhinweg said. "I think he certainly has a natural feel for the game, which shows up . . . There are very few times where he hasn't at least known what his responsibility in his progression and read was."

McNabb might have been surprised on draft day, but now that he has gotten to know Kolb, he said he isn't surprised to see his understudy doing well.

"From the first minicamp, I thought he did an excellent job of just kind of soaking everything in," McNabb said. "We've all been in that position where it seems everything is just kind of overloaded. It hasn't hit him that much, to where it seems he has too much on his plate. I told him early, 'When everything seems like it's just about to overflow, just kind of back away from things and go back over the little things.' "

McNabb noted that Kolb has three seasoned QBs to watch and learn from, in McNabb, A.J. Feeley and Kelly Holcomb. They all seem to interact well - McNabb said the quarterbacking quartet got together Saturday to see "The Bourne Ultimatum." (Which got thumbs up, by the way, from No. 5. "It was the best one out of the three, Looking forward to the next one," he said.)

Kolb said he definitely sees the rest of the group as a resource, not an obstacle: "That's what's good about having a lot of veterans around you, and a good coaching staff. You come back, you always get answers. I never feel like I walk away from the practice field wondering what happened. That's the key to learning and the key to progressing, for me."

Of course, not everything you watch others do helps your confidence. Asked the main thing he has learned from watching McNabb, Kolb said: "That he has a gun. He has a frickin' rifle."

But in general, Kolb said, he has noticed that the experienced QBs "trust their reads a lot, little things like that. When they see something roll, they trust it, they go with it, and if it's not there, they hit their checkdowns. You've got to be quick with your decisions, very decisive."

Feeley said what he has noticed is that Kolb "doesn't get rattled. He's very even-keeled, and that's what you look for in a quarterback."

Kolb credited coach Andy Reid for calming him, at times. Also, as Reid has noted, Kolb, as the son of a coach and as a guy who started at Houston as a true freshman, came in knowing what he was supposed to project.

"[Reid] understands and we understand that your teammates are watching you all the time," Kolb said. "The fans are watching you, too. If you look flustered, everybody's going to get flustered. You have to take control of your huddle, take control of the field, make everybody calm down and make a play."

Kolb was asked yesterday if it isn't tempting to think ahead, to wonder what he could do if moved to the head of the line.

"Oh, yeah, sure, but I know I'm not ready for that," he said. "I would love to fast-forward through to the time when I get my shot, but you've got to be patient and understand that you're in the pros now. It's a special game with a lot of special players. You're not the only one anymore. You've got to wait your turn and continue to get better."

Again, if McNabb is healthy, it's hard to say when that turn might come. Kolb is signed for 4 years. But if McNabb misses significant time, as he has in three of the past five seasons, and he doesn't lead the Eagles to that elusive Super Bowl trophy, well, even though McNabb also is signed for 4 more years, the amortization of his signing bonus ends after 2008. That would make the cap hit for trading him less than daunting.

For now, though, they are friends, not rivals.

"The thing about Kev is, he's similar to myself, he's a jovial guy, he's a guy that enjoys just playing football," McNabb said. "He always has a smile on his face."

There are differences, however.

Said McNabb: "He's got that country twang to him. We've got to get that out of him and we've got to get him out of that huntin' buffalo or whatever it is [wild hogs, actually]. I won't be joining him. Maybe I'll hold the camera." *