The Arizona Cardinals went through a tumultuous 2011 season, plagued with injuries and uncertainties at the quarterback and running back positions. The defense managed to drastically improve, and the team went on a 6-2 run after starting 2-6. The Cardinals are looking to continue that momentum from the end of the 2011 season in the upcoming 2012 regular season.
After seeing what quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton brought to the table in 2011, the daunting task of picking a bona fide starter is finally taking place with the beginning of the 2012 preseason.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has already stated that the quarterback battle between Skelton and Kolb is going to be made until the last possible moment to better evaluate the two, but after seeing Sunday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, the already difficult decision may be downright impossible.
Kevin Kolb started the game against the New Orleans Saints. Typically, the starting quarterback only plays a few drives and sits down, but Kolb went to the bench earlier than expected after suffering an injury. According to CBSSports.com, Kolb left the game with a rib contusion, having only thrown four passes in the game.
The Arizona Republic's Kent Somers later tweeted that the injury to Kevin Kolb is not serious.
Skelton then took over, completing four out of six passes for 32 yards. Although it is definitely too early to compare the two quarterbacks based their preseason stats, Kolb’s injury raises the question of his durability. His inability to stay healthy throughout a game, let alone an entire NFL season, will definitely influence the quarterback battle up until the beginning of the regular season.
Replacing an injured Kolb with Skelton is nothing new for the Cardinals, as Skelton took over the starting quarterback role from Kolb in 2011 on two separate occasions—in Week 8 after a toe injury and in Week 14 after a concussion. The Cardinals went 6-2 with Skelton as a starter after a 2-6 start from the injury-prone Kolb.
Being unable to have both quarterbacks healthy at the same time only prolongs coach Whisenhunt’s decision-making process and may cause a repeat of last season’s positional carousel.
The injury bug has plagued the Arizona Cardinals for most of last season, but this was not exclusive to the quarterback position. The running backs also had their troubles.
Running backs got their share of the injury bug when 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams out of Virginia Tech suffered a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee in a preseason game against the Packers.
According to The Arizona Republic, after hearing the news of Williams’ injury, Whisenhunt said, “That's what this game is all about. You have to have players step up to fit into a role when they get that opportunity.”
There was a definite opportunity to step up. Starter Beanie Wells managed to shine at times, but he also faced injuries. Third string back LaRod Stephens-Howling had to take the starting role, but even he missed games, which led to Arizona sticking with rookie Alfonso Smith from Kentucky and claiming Chester Taylor off waivers.
Williams is now healthy and ready to prove his worth. However, the Cardinals have decided to not to play Williams in the Hall of Fame game since the team is taking a cautious approach to the backup’s return from injury.
Not participating in the Hall of Fame Game does not harm his standing in the depth chart, as Wells also sat out with an injury. AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban stated that Wells will play in the second preseason game against Oakland.
Even though most headlines have focused on the instability at offense, the defense has proven to be the more productive and consistent unit, led by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. According to Darren urban from AZCardinals.com, the defense is miles of head of the offense in terms of productivity.
With Horton in his second year of running the defense, the team is looking to improve their already evolving defensive schemes.
The 2011 season saw the Arizona Cardinals defense go from one of the worst in the league to one of the most dynamic in the league, beating the dominating San Francisco 49ers in the process. In fact, the 6-2 run that ended the 2011 season can be attributed to the change in Horton's defense.
The Cardinals are still looking for pieces to build their already-improving defense. Prior to the Hall of Fame Game, the Cardinals announced that they signed rookie defensive end Everett Thompson, who went undrafted this year.
The team hopes they can keep that defensive momentum well into the beginning of the 2012 season.