When about a dozen Eagles players gathered in South Jersey on Wednesday for informal workouts, Mike Kafka was the first to arrive.
The quarterback sat in his modest Nissan sedan until the rest of the group arrived in their Lexuses, Range Rovers, and supersize trucks. Eagles fans who had scouted out the practice location then emerged from out of nowhere and flocked to the players for autographs like bees to pollen.
Virtually unnoticed, Kafka simply laced up his cleats at his car, walked to the field, and went to work. The moment, in essence, reflected his rookie season of near anonymity as the Eagles' third quarterback.
But Kafka wants more, and he may get his shot.
The Eagles appear committed to trading backup quarterback Kevin Kolb - when the lockout ends - creating an opening at the most popular position in Philadelphia. And coach Andy Reid said recently that he has enough faith in Kafka to hand him the job.
"I always have confidence in myself. But if Coach says that, it's great," Kafka said Wednesday after working out with starting quarterback Michael Vick and a handful of other Eagles. "I'm willing and waiting to take that next step to be that guy."
He may have to wait another year. If the Eagles do indeed trade Kolb, they may prefer to add a veteran instead of promoting Kakfa, who didn't take a single snap last season. There's also the possibility that the Eagles won't be able to deal Kolb.
Vick, who has thrown with Kafka several times during the offseason, said he likes the progress he has seen out of the 23-year-old.
"If Kevin's not back, then I think the backup role is a role that Mike Kafka embraces," Vick said. "I think he's ready for it. I think he's prepared himself well, and I think that will all translate on the field when it's all said and done."
Vick added that he and Kafka have approached throwing together the same way he and Kolb did last season - by talking through certain situations. Vick, of course, supplanted Kolb as the starter by Game 3.
Kolb's absence during the first several days of pickup practices seemed to make sense. He's based in Granbury, Texas, and there's a good chance he would have been throwing to future rivals. But there Kolb was on Thursday, a day after flying into Philly, tossing passes to tight end Brent Celek and receivers Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper.
Kafka didn't drop in the pecking order that day because Vick, who was making an appearance at a local high school that afternoon, did not attend the session.
The second-year quarterback out of Northwestern needs opportunities to throw. Like many rookies, he hadn't thrown nearly as much before as he did after joining the pros. This offseason was to be an important one under the tutelage of Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. But the lockout canceled those lessons.
"That second season is important to really solidify you mentally, physically, and make sure you're firing on all cylinders," Kafka said.
Some have questioned whether Kafka has the velocity on his throws to fire NFL-style passes. The Eagles, who say they're still high on Kafka, insist that he was simply going through the same dead-arm period that all rookie quarterbacks endure.
"Not only was I growing a lot during practice itself, I was also throwing an extra 50 balls post-practice," Kafka said. "All that, combined with double practices and a tough camp - yes, my arm got a little tired towards the end of camp."
To quantify his worth, a source said last month the Eagles had received trade offers for the quarterback before the work stoppage. When the lockout was briefly lifted during the draft, Kafka was one of the few players to go to the NovaCare Complex.
He met with Reid, Mornhinweg, and new quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson. If the coaches envision Kafka as the backup next season, they don't have much film to go on. Aside from 59 preseason attempts, the 2010 fourth-round draft pick did not throw a pass last season.
Kafka said he learned a lot just being on the sidelines.
"It's actually a good thing because you get to see a lot from the sidelines that not a lot of people see," he said. "When the guys are walking off the field you see their faces. Whereas when you're the starter, you're walking off with them, and you only feel the ebb and flow of the game."