Cards look for Kolb to prove himself at camp

For the second consecutive training camp, all eyes will be on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb as he attempts to justify the hefty price the club paid to acquire him. Unlike last year, Kolb won’t arrive in Flagstaff with the deck stacked against him.

He’s had a full offseason to heal a foot injury and a concussion. He’ll have the playbook before he arrives. He participated in the full complement of offseason workouts, allowing him to absorb the intricacies of the offense and find a comfort level. And, at least on paper, he’ll have a better array of offensive options, with running back Ryan Williams returning to health and the drafting of receiver Michael Floyd.

There are no more excuses.

“I’m not hiding from anything. I’m not acting like it never happened,” Kolb said of his disastrous first season in Arizona. “That’s something you write down and learn from. You put it in the back of your mind for later on when you hit something kind of like that experience again so you can say, ‘I’ve been through this before. Now I know how to handle it.'”

The Cardinals hope so. While coach Ken Whisenhunt insists that John Skelton will have an equal shot to win the job, Kolb was brought here to start. He was brought here to lead the franchise back to the playoffs. He was brought here to continue what Kurt Warner started in his final two seasons as a pro.

The Cardinals gave up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick and a lot of money to achieve those goals.

If Kolb can’t accomplish them this season, he may not get another shot in Arizona. If he fails, it will also reflect poorly on the coach who lobbied to bring him here. The fans will notice. Team president Michael Bidwill will notice. For the first time since his arrival in 2007, Whisenhunt could feel the pressure of job insecurity.

That is why we’re still convinced that Kolb will be given every chance to keep the starter’s role. To be clear, he must show improvement from last season in his decision-making. He must show more patience in allowing plays to develop. But he’ll really have to struggle for Skelton to earn the starter’s role in just his third season.  

The quarterback competition will be the most high-profile position battle when training camp practices begin July 25, but it’s not the only one. Here are three more offensive position battles to watch.

WIDE RECEIVER

The matchup: Andre Roberts vs. Michael Floyd

Roberts’ advantages: He’s the incumbent. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is generally cautious about putting rookies in his starting lineup, and Roberts has shown progress in his route running while displaying a surprising ability and willingness to block downfield. He and Early Doucet both have a leg up on Floyd because they know the system and the staff’s expectations.

Floyd’s advantages: He has the size and strength to beat press coverage while outmuscling defenders for jump balls. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has also noted Floyd’s ability to track balls and make catches in traffic. Oh, and Larry Fitzgerald loves him.

The skinny: Like most competitions, it’s not a clear A vs. B scenario. The Cards often use multiple receivers and move them around. Floyd might not win the starting job in Week 1, but he’ll get plenty of looks, and we’re guessing it’s only a matter of time before he’s lined up opposite Fitzgerald on a consistent basis.

The edge: Floyd

TIGHT END

The matchup: Todd Heap vs. Robert Housler

Heap’s advantages: A wealth of experience and sparkling resume that includes two Pro Bowl selections and the fourth most TDs among active tight ends. Heap understands the game, the position and how to make an impact. That’s why he’s tutoring Housler.

Housler’s advantages: Unusual speed and pass-catching abilities for the position. Housler is definitely the club’s tight end of the future.
 
The skinny: Jeff King remains the team’s best all-around tight end, but Housler could emerge as a dangerous threat down the seam because of his speed. Health provided, the Cards will use both Heap and Housler in some situations, but Housler’s ascension will depend largely on his deficient blocking skills and how well he has mastered the offense. Since this is likely Heap’s last season in Arizona and he has struggled with injuries, we expect Housler to be phased into the greater role as the season progresses, provided he makes the necessary strides in his game.

The edge: Housler

RIGHT TACKLE

The matchup: Jeremy Bridges vs. Bobby Massie

Bridges’ advantages: Experience and versatility. Bridges has filled in all over the Cards line, usually with effectiveness. He’s an easy-going, fun-loving guy who blends well with this unit.

Massie’s advantages: Size. Massie is huge at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds and might have room to grow. In an ideal world, he’d make the jump to the pros and display the motor that Brandon Keith never seemed to possess.

The skinny: Given Whisenhunt’s penchant for bringing rookies along slowly, we find it hard to envision Massie in the starting lineup in Week 1. Add to that the difficulty of mastering this position and we’re almost certain Massie will need more time.

The edge: Bridges