FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For the past eight months, the question has been: Kevin Kolb or John Skelton?
Here’s another to ponder: What if neither Cardinals quarterback is good enough to be an NFL starter? What if both are nothing more than backup quality?
Thus far, the organization and even the media have defended the pair with a number of excuses.
Kolb didn’t have an offseason to learn the offense in 2011. He was hurt twice, so he never developed a rhythm during the season. His offensive line, tight ends and running backs do a poor job protecting him.
Skelton is young and inexperienced. He attended a small school (Fordham), so he needs time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game and the quality of its players. He needs time to harness that powerful but often inaccurate arm.
None of those statements is incorrect. Coach Ken Whisenhunt singled out Kolb’s protection as an issue again at Monday’s lunchtime press conference. But there are individual issues with both players — issues that make those who attend practice on a daily basis wonder whether this pair is capable of getting things right.
Skelton continues to struggle with his progressions. He has a habit of locking onto a receiver. He must develop better accuracy than he’s displayed in Flagstaff, where he regularly misses receivers.
Aside from the impossible–to-ignore questions about his durability, Kolb still hasn’t demonstrated good pocket presence. The joke in camp is that he’s got his bags packed before every snap. He’s ready to move.
“That’s something that we’re working on, stepping up in the pocket and staying with your reads,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s one of the areas that he’s made improvement. I’ve seen it. We’ve just got to translate it to the games.”
In two preseason games, that hasn’t happened. Some of it is because of the aforementioned protection breaking down; some of it is a product of Kolb bailing at the first sign of trouble.
“It’s always a constant battle as far as trusting it long enough to … stay in there and make that throw and then getting out there and making a play as well,” Kolb said. “I had one last week that I definitely got out early. It was a play where I could have hung in there and got it to the back or got it out a little quicker.”
With Kolb struggling, Skelton appeared to have gained the upper hand after the team’s first preseason game against the Saints. But Skelton also struggled last week, missing plays, failing to sustain drives and tossing an ugly interception into double coverage.
Through two games, Kolb has completed just two of nine passes for 25 yards with one interception. Skelton is seven of 12 for 67 yards and the interception.
The duo’s ineffectiveness has led to predictable cries from the fan base for rookie Ryan Lindley to get more reps. Lindley played well against Kansas City and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has even speculated that “Lindley will have his shot to play by midseason.” But Whisenhunt put the kibosh on such talk, for now, saying that while Lindley has showed promised, he is, by no means, ready to start an NFL game.
When asked about the criticism he and Kolb have faced over the past week, Skelton didn’t flinch.
“I think it’s warranted,” he said. “For us to go three and out or never really change field position, it’s something that can’t happen. We can’t just accept it. We’ve got to eventually get going.”
There is the ever-present caveat that this is just the preseason. It is hard to gauge any team’s ability when there is no game-planning and players shuttle out of the lineup so quickly that they can’t establish rhythm.
But Whisenhunt’s displeasure after last week’s loss in Kansas City suggests a deeper level of frustration — a sense that something is wrong.
“I’m displeased with all units,” he said.
Which is why he hasn’t placed a playing-time limit on the starters for Friday’s home game against the Oakland Raiders.
“When they get it right, maybe they’ll come out,” he said. “As of right now, there’s no reason to save anybody.”
Whisenhunt has refrained from sharing the full scale of his quarterback analysis in his daily media sessions. But with two meaningful games left in the preseason to prove otherwise, one thing is apparent: Neither Kolb nor Skelton has earned the starting job. Neither player has answered the question at the top of this column.