Earlier this offseason, the Arizona Cardinals tried to get Peyton Manning to be their quarterback in 2012. When that didn't work out, they declared that the starting quarterback position would be an open competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
In reality, this is Skelton's job to lose.
If he has learned anything, and I think he has, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't going to let the enormous amount of resources the franchise gave up to acquire Kolb from Philadelphia (a second-round pick, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and $19 million—so far...) influence his decision when he picks his starting quarterback.
Back in 2007, Whisenhunt named a former first-round pick, Matt Leinart, his starter over an older, veteran quarterback who clearly outplayed him in the preseason. Leinart's perceived value as a former first-rounder won out back then. As it happened, Kurt Warner was named the starter the following August, leading the Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
While the choice may not be as obvious this time around, going back and watching their play in 2011, its hard to see Whisenhunt going with Kolb—if all things are truly equal and this is a choice about how guys play on the football field.
As Whisenhunt said to the Arizona Republic:
I've always believed that competition makes you better. Would you prefer to not have it at this position? Sure. But I feel good about our team and this competition because both of these guys can play. ...
In the NFL, it's all about being able to process (information), play fast, make accurate throws and manage the offense. Both of them have shown they can do it. What we're looking for is consistency. If we get that, we feel very good about this football team.
Whisenhunt tips his hand a bit there. If "playing fast" on a consistent basis is a key component that you're looking for in your starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb is not your man. Time and again, when you turn on the coaches tape, you can see Kolb a beat behind when throwing to receivers who are coming into open windows that then close quickly due to Kolb's slow decision-making.
I understand why some may hold out hope for the light to finally come on for Kolb, but the reality is, if he was ever going to fix the issues that have plagued his game as a pro—from the extreme case of happy feet he gets in the pocket to his Captain Checkdown tendencies—he would have solved them prior to his fifth year in the league.
Skelton, on the other hand, is still young and learning the pro game. Full disclosure: I loved Skelton coming out of Fordham and thought he could turn into a good pro quarterback if given time to sit and learn. He has done that while being thrown into the starter's role the last two years. If you look at his four starts in 2010 and then look at his seven starts in 2011, you see marked improvement.
Where has the improvement been in Kolb's game?
There's an old scouting adage that says you need to see roughly 10 games to know if a guy can be a starter in the league—and from this chair, it sure looks like Skelton can play the part.
Now, has he "arrived"? Hardly. He still has a great deal to work on, from his inaccuracy when throwing outside the hash marks to his tendency to miss simple protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
However, the jump in quality of play from his first year to his second is undeniable. While Kolb has been treading water for the last two seasons, improvement-wise, Skelton's stock has been rising. If that development carries over into training camp and the preseason, the starting quarterback job in Arizona will be his.
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