NFL Nation: The Big Question NFC 33010

The Big Question: Is Kolb ready?

March, 30, 2010
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If the Eagles are able to trade Donovan McNabb, what does the Kevin Kolb era look like?

Howard Smith/US PresswireEagles quarterback Kevin Kolb might be better suited for the West Coast offense than Donovan McNabb.
Everyone I talk to in the Eagles' organization suggests that former University of Houston star Kevin Kolb is ready for prime time. The Eagles former general manager Tom Heckert, who had a big say in drafting Kolb in the second round of the '07 draft, told me last week he thinks Kolb is absolutely ready to succeed at this level. That's why he thinks it would be nearly impossible for a team to land Kolb in a trade.

Kolb is already popular with his teammates. You may have noticed there hasn't been a huge outcry from the locker room to keep McNabb. I know that fullback Leonard Weaver recently voiced his support during a radio interview, but that's about it. There's a sense in the organization it's time for young stars such as DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek to start playing with the quarterback who's expected to hang around for the next six or seven seasons.

From the scouts I talk to across the league, Kolb's actually better suited for the West Coast offense than McNabb. He's been very accurate in the preseason and in his two regular-season starts. One NFC East scout told me Monday he thought a second-round pick was a little "rich" for Kolb in '07. The thought at that time was that Kolb may have been a "system" quarterback under coach Art Briles at Houston and his huge passing numbers wouldn't translate to the NFL game. But after a year of work in Reid's system, he convinced the coach he was indeed the real deal.

Kolb doesn't have McNabb's strength or mobility, but he does appear to have a more accurate arm. In an offense that's built on timing and intermediate routes, that's no small thing. Kolb's also been praised for an internal clock that allows him to get the ball away quickly. There are actually people in the organization who think Kolb gives the Eagles a better chance to win immediately.

I have too much respect for McNabb to agree with that statement, but I do think Kolb will help the Eagles win a lot of games in the coming years. His coaches and teammates love how calm he is in the huddle. The Stephenville, Texas, native rarely gets rattled and that's a good trait to have if you're going to play in Philly.

I think Kolb's ready to take over this team.
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Can unproven quarterback Charlie Whitehurst -- the backup for now -- help the Seahawks right away?

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Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireCharlie Whitehurst has yet to attempt a pass in a regular-season game.
All four NFC West teams have new backup quarterbacks (provided A.J. Feeley fills that role in St. Louis, as expected).

The new backup with the least experience -- Whitehurst -- cost the most in salary and draft compensation. It's only natural for the Whitehurst debate to center on whether he'll justify the investment. Skeptics have it easy for the time being.

Another question comes to mind in the short term: Will Whitehurst's presence help the Seahawks get more from their starting quarterback?

Matt Hasselbeck hasn't had to worry about competition for his job since finishing the 2002 season strong and backing it up with a breakout season in 2003. The Seahawks traded former starter Trent Dilfer following the 2004 season, leaving Seneca Wallace clearly defined as the backup, with no shot at winning the starting job for the long term.

Life is suddenly different for Hasselbeck now that Whitehurst is in position to push him for the job.

Whitehurst's credentials shouldn't threaten Hasselbeck, but his acquisition surely put Hasselbeck on alert. Hasselbeck is entering the final year of his contract. The team has a new coaching staff. The investment Seattle made in Whitehurst showed the team planned for him to start by 2011 -- unless Hasselbeck can prove a change isn't in the team's best interests.

A little competition can't hurt.
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Can Raheem Morris be a better coach than he was last year?

Let’s be honest, it probably would be impossible for Morris to look more overwhelmed than he was the first half of last season.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Morris
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireThings were anything but easy for Raheem Morris during his first season as the Bucs' head coach.
The rookie Tampa Bay coach seemed to be desperately grasping for any sort of hope as he changed offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterbacks, kickers and punters. It took the Bucs a long time to win or even look like an NFL team.

But if you look closely at the chaos that was Tampa Bay’s season last year, you can spot some progress, particularly from the head coach. The guy showed an ability to admit his mistakes and move on from them. That’s a unique quality and that’s why there’s a chance Morris might have grown quite a bit last season.

We’ll have to wait to see how this season plays out, but Morris is in a much better spot than he was a year ago. Morris realized Jim Bates’ defensive scheme wasn’t working out and fired the veteran coordinator. Morris took the reins of the defense, went back to the Tampa 2 and the Bucs actually played decent defense at the end of the season.

They now will spend an entire offseason working on the defense they’ll actually play all season. Same for the offense, where coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was fired just prior to the start of last season. There were a lot of issues (more than we’ll ever know) going on with Jagodzinski, but the bottom line was the offense wasn’t getting any real coaching. Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson suddenly had the offense dumped on him at the same time he was trying to get rookie quarterback Josh Freeman ready to step on the field and the early results weren’t pretty.

But the Bucs, most importantly Freeman, will have an entire offseason in the Olson offense. That alone should help Morris look a lot better. He’s not suddenly going to turn into the league’s most brilliant coach.

But Morris’ willingness to admit his mistakes and fix them should make him a better coach in his second season.
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Multiple reports suggest Chicago will trade or release longtime defensive end Alex Brown. Why?

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAlex Brown recorded 48 tackles and six sacks for the Bears in 2009.
It's a simple question with a complicated answer that might shed some light on how the Bears will integrate new defensive end Julius Peppers.

Brown has been a durable and productive player for eight seasons, and at 30, he should have some good years remaining. He has averaged nearly six sacks per year since 2004 -- not exactly Pro Bowl numbers, but more than any current Bears player other than Peppers. These days, NFL teams don't part easily with anyone who can mount a relatively consistent pass rush.

So what gives?

We should have known something was up last week at the NFL owners meetings, when Bears coach Lovie Smith responded carefully when asked about plans to play Peppers at left end and right end. Using Peppers at right end would displace Brown, bringing up the natural question: Could Brown play on the left side?

"Alex hasn't played both sides," Smith said, "but he can play both sides."

In the next breath, however, Smith began talking up defensive end Mark Anderson's potential in that role and noted that veteran Israel Idonije has been converted to a full-time defensive end. Let's face it: At 260 pounds, Brown is probably too light to play left end on a regular basis, even in a scheme that emphasizes lighter, quicker defensive linemen.

(The left end typically faces more running plays and thus needs some bulk to stand up to the correlative pounding.)

So if I had to make an educated guess, I would say the Bears are planning to play Peppers much more often on the right side than they are on the left. That's the only reason Brown would be expendable, at least in my eyes. I'm sure the Bears would like opponents to guess on Peppers' whereabouts, but if he were truly going to spend significant time at left end, wouldn't you keep Brown to play right end in those instances?

It's possible the Bears, who know Brown best, aren't convinced he will be a productive player as he proceeds through his early 30s. It's more likely, however, that they are loosening a logjam at the right end position to make room for Peppers.