In his first two NFL seasons, quarterback Mike Kafka was able to learn some extraordinary lessons on how to be a pro.
As a rookie in 2010, the fourth-round draft pick watched the rejuvenation of Michael Vick's career as well as how Kevin Kolb handled losing his starting job.
Last season, Kafka got to hold the clipboard behind Vick and another veteran in Vince Young. However, Kafka learned the importance of being prepared as he was called into action on two different occasions.
This year, Vick is still the man under center, but Kafka is expected to take the next step and put a stranglehold on the backup quarterback position. Kafka has been praised by the Eagles coaches in the past for his smarts and athleticism. His game tape, albeit limited, offers some promise. That didn't stop the Eagles, however, from using a third-round pick on quarterback Nick Foles in the 2012 NFL Draft.
With an entire offseason to build upon what he's learned in his first two years, Kafka has to show that if called upon he can deliver much like backup quarterbacks of past seasons.
"Being able to come back with the things that I do know, learn from some of the stuff that Coach (Andy) Reid, Coach (Marty) Mornhinweg and Coach (Doug) Pederson are all teaching me and keep on building, keep piling on so I can be the most efficient quarterback, the best quarterback, that I can be," Kafka said. "I just have to go in there and do my job."
Kafka's first taste of NFL action came last season in the Week 2 loss in Atlanta after Vick was knocked out of the game with a concussion. He was an extremely efficient 7-of-9 for 72 yards, which included a 43-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin. One of those two incompletions came on a fourth-down pass to Maclin as the Eagles were driving in Falcons territory to tie the game. The ball was delivered into Maclin's body, but he couldn't handle it and the Eagles lost.
A week later, Vick exited the game against the Giants with a hand injury. Kafka came in to try and rally the Eagles again, but in an attempt to be more aggressive down the field he threw a pair of interceptions and finished 4-of-7 for 35 yards.
"Those experiences I've thought about this entire offseason and being able to learn from Mike and the good and not-so-good that he's done," Kafka said. "Mike's been playing quarterback at a high level for a long time. We're going to continue to learn from him, push each other and everyone in the quarterback room."
Backup quarterbacks have played a key role during the Andy Reid era. A.J. Feeley guided the Eagles to a division title in 2002 after Donovan McNabb was injured. Jeff Garcia did the same thing and he won a playoff game after McNabb's 2006 season was ended by a knee injury. Vick was the backup to start 2010 before winning the starting job. Last season, Young went 1-2 as a starter in relief of Vick during a critical three-game stretch midseason.
Kafka said that immediately after the season ended he went to Arizona to train with Jay Schroeder. He returned to Philadelphia for the offseason conditioning program where he could also get in the classroom and the playbook. Last season, like all second-year NFL players, Kafka was barred from gaining the benefit of a first full offseason training with coaches at the team facilities.
"That's a great things about these time right now is you get the opportunity to come back and rip whatever play you did the last time and do it better and just continue to build and build and build," Kafka said. "That's the best thing is that you get to learn from your experiences."
Quarterback Trent Edwards explained recently that one of the biggest challenges of learning a new offense is the detailed mechanics, primarily the footwork. Kafka recalled as a rookie undergoing that transformation after playing in the spread offense at Northwestern.
"I know how he feels," Kafka said. "As a rookie, I had to go through those same steps and that's the way the system is run. It's a timing system. You have to be able to throw on time accurately and all of those things."
With just a three-day full-team mini-camp next week, this will be the last chance for Kafka to fine tune his craft in a practice setting before Training Camp kicks off in late July. The best part of the spring workouts has been the competition, Kafka said, which will only intensify under the searing heat of the Lehigh Valley.
"It's been really fun going against our guys and amongst each other in the quarterback room," Kafka said. "The more we can compete and push each other the better off the team as a whole will be."
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