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Getting Skelton Ready

Posted Dec 13, 2010

Cards must keep teaching rookie as he starts at quarterback

John Skelton (left) talks to quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and fellow quarterback Richard Bartel (2) during Sunday's 43-13 Cardinals' victory.


The perfect scenario would be to have an entire offseason to run John Skelton through the gauntlet.

To pressure him physically and mentally, to get him comfortable with calling plays, with running plays. The Cardinals’ rookie quarterback didn’t get enough of that in his first NFL summer, and that’s why coach Ken Whisenhunt declared him – more than once – not ready.

Not that it matters anymore.

Whisenhunt said Skelton will remain the Cardinals’ starting quarterback, saying Skelton is the team’s best chance to win. That’s regardless of a return by veteran Derek Anderson this week, although Whisenhunt said Anderson still has to be symptom-free of his concussion for 24 hours before he can practice again and that has yet to happen.

The Cardinals, who broke their losing streak behind Skelton Sunday and travel to 1-12 Carolina this weekend, will continue to ramp up Skelton’s NFL education. While Skelton declared his play “decent,” Whisenhunt said there are still plenty of mistakes that happened Sunday, many of which that would go unnoticed by outsiders – formation calls, calling the play the wrong way, and the like.

In fact, Whisenhunt said Skelton “is about where I thought he was.”

“It gives you concern because you don’t want to have one of those things happen at a critical point in the game, so you have to work through them,” Whisenhunt said. “He will. He put in a tremendous amount of time last week in preparation, and I thought, with all factors being considered, he did a good job yesterday.”

Whisenhunt has done the quarterback-baptism-by-fire before. Ben Roethlisberger shot to stardom as a rookie in 2004 when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record, while Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator.

It’s about making sure the quarterback can handle as much of the playbook as possible without overloading. Having a defense that can compensate helps – it’s no coincidence Skelton won on a day when the Cardinals’ defense dominated, allowing early offensive hiccups to pass without costing the Cardinals. That’s a big reason Roethlisberger was so good when he started out, because the Steelers’ defense could carry the team.

Whisenhunt said the decision the last couple months to have Skelton meet one-on-one with quarterbacks coach Chris Miller or passing game coordinator Mike Miller has helped. Skelton stands at the dry-erase boards and is put through the paces, making reads, doing calls, explaining progressions.

Skelton is much improved than the player who left Flagstaff and the preseason, when he was not able to surpass fellow rookie Max Hall on the depth chart. “That’s based on spending 24 hours a day with them, seven days a week with them, for six weeks,” Whisenhunt said.

The offensive issues haven’t disappeared. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said “we’re kicking way too many field goals,” and whether it is drops or errant passes, Skelton and his pass catchers aren’t quite oozing chemistry yet. Writing something on a board in a meeting room and then performing the same thing on Sundays is different. Even Skelton said during his first minicamp he has always been better learning on the field than in the playbook.

“When I say he’s not ready, look, there are things he’s not going to process,” Whisenhunt said. “But I have to give him credit, because in a situation where they bring pressure, he was able to handle it well. It was a good start.”
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