The scene has happened before this season, when Kevin Kolb and John Skelton each take their turns under the “interview tree” outside the Cardinals’ locker room after practice.
If anything symbolizes the Cards’ uncertainty at quarterback, the back-to-back media meetings is it.
Little concrete came from Wednesday’s practice. Kolb, recovering from a concussion, said he was feeling OK but “I wouldn’t say normal” after limited work in practice. Kolb said Skelton got a little more work, Skelton said it was about even – notable because coach Ken Whisenhunt said he wanted to get the starter the majority of reps before playing in Cincinnati – and Whisenhunt said he didn’t need to name a quarterback yet.
Whisenhunt said Thursday would be the crucial day, both to assess Kolb and to decide which one would get more work in practice. “We’ll see how it goes,” Whisenhunt said.
In the meantime, the quarterbacks continue to deal with the Who-Should-Start theme.
“That comes with the territory,” Skelton said. “You have to be able to be diplomatic about it and face the critics, whether things are good or bad.”
For the season, the two quarterbacks have similar statistics: Kolb has a slightly better completion percentage (57.7 to 55.5). Kolb has thrown nine touchdowns with eight interceptions, with Skelton’s ratio 8/10. Kolb has been sacked significantly more (30 to 16) but his passer rating is better (81.0 to 69.8).
Skelton’s showing in his six appearances – five starts – has produced five victories. That weighs heavy in the court of public opinion, although in Kolb’s lone start since recovering from toe and foot injuries (and since the defense turned around) he too won the game.
“Either guy, I think we are comfortable with them, we have won with both of them,” Fitzgerald said. “Whoever is going to play for us, we will support him and give it all we got. That’s how we look at it.”
Acknowledging he still has some symptoms, Kolb said he digested the game plan in meetings just fine. He gave a weary chuckle when asked about how he yet again was spending the majority of his interview time talking health rather than football.
“I want to be on the field,” Kolb said. “I want to be talking about defenses and winning ball games. To have one of the better halves I have had and then be set back … it’s very frustrating. I’m not going to lie, but what are you going to do.”
Kolb knows there has been a groundswell of Skelton backers.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Kolb said. “All I can do is come to work every day, work, and do my best to prove I need to be out there.”
If nothing else, Skelton’s play over the second half of the season figures to create an offseason – the first with Kolb, given the lockout this past summer – of intrigue with Skelton pushing to be a permanent starter. Speculation of Kolb’s contract aside, both players will return in 2012 barring something unforeseen.
The way the defense has been performing for the Cards would help any quarterback. Skelton has had plenty of rough patches, but Whisenhunt acknowledged he’d rather have a quarterback that can finish than one who starts fast and fades. Skelton, whose beginnings to games have been almost as unimpressive as his finishes impressive, certainly falls into that category.
“(Tim) Tebow gets all the love. Skelton gets no (love),” Fitzgerald said, smiling. “John has done a terrific job. He finds a way to get it done. In the huddle it’s like sitting in there like a two-time Super Bowl champion. He shows no emotion. He spits the play out like he’s been doing it forever.”
Said Skelton, “You do kind of surprise yourself with some of the drives and some of the plays you make.”
Kolb hasn’t played on the road since he got hurt initially this season in Baltimore Oct. 30. Skelton has three road starts since then, although there isn’t any proof that will impact Whisenhunt’s decision for the Saturday starter in Cincinnati.
Either way, the Cardinals have to win to have a chance at the playoffs, and, at least publicly, that’s the focus – regardless of the quarterback.
“No matter who the quarterback is, whether it is me or Kevin,” Skelton said, “the rest of the team will rally around either one of us.”