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Eagles quarterback Kafka looks to have No. 2 spot locked up

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - There is no mystery backup quarterback.

Mike Kafka has been hounded by arm-strength questions since before the 2010 draft. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Mike Kafka has been hounded by arm-strength questions since before the 2010 draft. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)Read more

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - There is no mystery backup quarterback.

The Eagles don't have a card in their back pocket that they're waiting to play.

Mike Kafka is the No. 2 to starter Michael Vick. And while coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg insist that there is still a competition for that spot, Kafka will open the season as the backup barring some unforeseen event.

"There's competition there," Mornhinweg said Monday at training camp. "We'll see. Mike Kafka's had an excellent camp up to date. [Nick] Foles is coming."

The Eagles had hoped that it would be Trent Edwards who would push Kafka. They signed the 28-year-old free agent off the street in late February. But Edwards, whom no team would sign in 2011, has consistently gotten the least number of snaps under center since the spring.

Foles, meanwhile, is running with the third team, but the third-round rookie is likely to need more time learning the Eagles' West Coast offense before he is one injury away from starting.

So that leaves Kafka, to the dismay of some who believe the third-year quarterback with an arm that is merely adequate is not the best option should Vick miss significant time because of injury for the third straight season.

It's the most important position in football, a fact Reid obviously knows, and yet the Eagles coach enters the most important season of his career with a backup quarterback with all of 16 career NFL passes, two of which were intercepted.

Maybe Reid, who has coached quarterbacks Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb, and Mornhinweg, who has also worked with Favre, McNabb, and Jeff Garcia, know something about Kafka that the doubters don't.

"I have great confidence in Mike Kafka," Mornhinweg said. "He's a highly confident young man himself. He's got skill and ability."

Plenty of quarterbacks without explosive arms have been successful in the NFL. The majority of successful ones have been able to make all the throws needed to win games.

Kafka, 25, has been hounded by the arm-strength questions since before the 2010 draft. But they're asked with more frequency. Does it bother him?

"To be honest with you, it really doesn't because you have to be able to make all the throws and that's the reason why they drafted me," Kafka said. "It's because I could do that."

Still, the Eagles have tried to increase his velocity. This offseason they lowered where he holds the football so that when he cocks and throws the movement is more compact. When Kafka has been asked to toss short to intermediate passes at camp he has looked sharp. But the long throws - the bombs, the 20-plus-yard "outs" - have often been off-target.

His command of the offense, however, is palpable. He watches film like a cinephile. He is often seen walking around with a notebook in which he has logged many of his observations after watching tape.

"He's locked down in this offense," Mornhinweg said. "He's tried to become a master that way."

The Eagles are banking that Kafka's knowledge of the offense and his reading of defenses will make up for whatever he lacks in arm strength. Mornhinweg compared him to Garcia, his starting quarterback when he was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco and the Eagles' backup in 2006 when McNabb went down for the season.

Mornhinweg was also asked if Kafka was similar in style to A.J. Feeley, another of the backups under Reid.

"I hate to compare because every quarterback is different," Mornhinweg said, "but he's in that same mold certainly."

With Vince Young on the shelf early last season, Kafka was the de factor No. 2. When Vick left the Atlanta and New York Giants games in September, Kafka was called upon. He fared well against the Falcons, not so well against the Giants.

Despite the mixed results the Eagles were confident enough in Kafka that they didn't add a free agent quarterback who at least played last season. Jason Campbell, who went to Chicago to be a backup, seemed to make sense for the Eagles.

But the Eagles had already signed Edwards. And even though they added the 6-foot-6, 243-pound Foles, a big quarterback with a stronger arm, Kafka said he didn't pay much attention to the offseason moves at quarterback.

"To be honest with you, it's out of my control," Kafka said. "The only thing I can control is the opportunity that I get."

on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.