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Kolb Faces Crucial Season

Posted Jan 2, 2012

Notebook: Key defensive free agents; Beanie awaits knee plan

Quarterback Kevin Kolb meets with the media Monday, a day after the season ended for the Cardinals. (For additional day-after notes, click here.)

In a month, quarterback Kevin Kolb said Monday, he probably will return to have some final tests regarding his concussion and make sure everything is back to normal.

That’s expected. What is also expected – even by Kolb – is that 2012 will be the most important season of his career.  It could define his NFL life, but it is almost certain to define whether his tenure in Arizona lasts.

“I don’t know if I want to put that kind of pressure on myself, but that’s kind of how it feels,” Kolb acknowledged. “I am really looking forward to next season. I think we have big things ahead of us. That’s my gut feeling.”

Fellow quarterback John Skelton said he hopes to have a fair shot at earning the starting job for 2012, but “that’s for the coaching staff to determine.” Coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t getting too deep into specifics the day after the season.

“One thing that’s been consistent is we’re always going to play the best player,” Whisenhunt said. “As far as how those guys stack up or where they are, that’s all part of the evaluations we do in the offseason. … I’m excited about all three of our quarterbacks.”

Third-stringer Rich Bartel should return as well.

With Skelton and Kolb playing virtually the same amount – Kolb started nine games to Skelton’s seven, but Skelton played all but three plays of the game Kolb was concussed – Kolb ended up with an 81.0 passer rating compared to Skelton’s 68.9.

“I know I have to get better,” Skelton said. “I know there were plays I made but a lot of plays I didn’t make and a lot of stupid mistakes. But it’s a starting point.”

Kolb was 146-for-253 (a 57.7 completion percentage) for 1,955 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and took 30 sacks. Skelton was 151-for-275 (54.9) for 1,913 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, taking 23 sacks. Kolb lost three fumbles, Skelton one.

“Life is a competition,” Kolb said. “This league is all about competition. If you are scared of that, you are in the wrong league. John did a great job and he should come in with that same mentality just like I will.”

FREE AGENTS ON DEFENSE

While Whisenhunt said he didn’t expect tremendous change with the Cardinals this offseason, there are a handful of key free agents that need to be addressed. None of the players have closed the door on returning.

The biggest name is defensive end Calais Campbell, who has said many times he would like to return. There have been reports the two sides are closer to a deal. If Campbell isn’t signed, he is expected to get the franchise tag. Whisenhunt didn’t want to say much Monday because he didn’t want to “jinx” anything – perhaps a nod that talks are progressing. “We’re looking forward to having many more years with Calais,” Whisenhunt said.

Veteran starting linebacker Clark Haggans, who had a solid renaissance season returning to his Steelers defense roots, sounded like he would like to come back after turning 35 in a week. He has helped mentor the young linebackers on the roster.

“It makes me feel a little older, like I should have a rocking chair in front of my locker, but it’s a lot of fun,” Haggans said.

Another key defender, defensive back Richard Marshall, said having to play multiple roles won’t affect whether he wants to stay or not. He said it “means a lot” that defensive coordinator Ray Horton called Marshall the defensive MVP.

“Our defense is a little complicated,” Marshall said. “For a coach to think that highly of you, you are proud of that. Next year, hopefully, if I am here, we can start fast.”

BEANIE’S SEASON

Both running back Beanie Wells and Whisenhunt weren’t sure if Wells would need surgery to repair the bad right knee through which he played almost all season (it would seem more likely than not, however).

Wells joked not being able to play in the season finale – Whisenhunt chose to inactivate Wells – was “like he was my dad and he told me I couldn’t go out to the party.”

Wells missed just two games this season on his way to his best season – 1,047 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 4.3 per-carry average – but shrugged off the idea he dispelled any reputation he had for being tough or playing hurt.

“People are still going to chirp and talk,” Wells said. “It’s the way of the world. You will never completely shut someone up. Everyone is  a critic. … I knew it before, but came to the realization more so this year. People are still going to say it. It is what it is.”

LOOKING AT THE COACHES

Asked if the coaching staff would remain intact, Whisenhunt said “that’s a process we go through and look at.”

“Our coaches have done a good job of staying true and working hard,” Whisenhunt added. “That’s all part of the evaluation process, as my position is. That’s something that I’ll have to sit down with our owner, and we’ll talk about what I could have done better and how we can get better going forward.”

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