When John McNulty was coaching in Dallas, undrafted rookie quarterback Tony Romo “was probably our best guy” at the position.
So the assistants, a couple of times, brought the idea up to head coach Bill Parcells. Why not play Romo? Parcells’ response was simple. “Are you out of your mind?”
“His idea was ‘I don’t want to ruin this guy,’ ” said McNulty, now the Cardinals’ quarterbacks coach. “ ‘I know he is talented, I know he is smart. But we’re not going to ruin him by throwing him into the fire.’ No one was asking for Romo.”
What the Cowboys did have, however, was a quality developmental quarterback who later not only became a starter but a Pro Bowler, a player like Tom Brady or Matt Hasselbeck, guys who was taken later in the draft (or in Romo’s case, not at all) only to emerge after a couple of years.
The Cardinals took Ryan Lindley in the sixth round of this year’s draft with the same hope in mind. The odds are against finding a diamond in the rough, of course, but that just means teams should keep trying. Lindley is the main quarterback at the Cards’ rookie minicamp, but soon, he’ll just be the raw fourth guy behind
Still, it makes sense for the Cards – like most teams – to see what Lindley has got.
“After a couple of years ago,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, referencing the rough 2010 after Kurt Warner retired, “I hope we’ve learned you can never have enough at that position.”
Lindley played in 49 games at San Diego State under three different offensive systems, experience that McNulty believes will make it easier to digest what the Cards are teaching him. McNulty also said the coaches have noticed how Lindley has worked on his fundamentals before the draft, after Lindley’s footwork needed improvement and caused accuracy issues in college.
Despite draft pick status, however, Whisenhunt won’t say that Lindley will be around this season – he’ll have to beat out Bartel, who had a good training camp last year – to even get the long-term work.
Lindley understands the concept of developing a quarterback on the roster, but he doesn’t want to pigeon-hole himself either.
“I have the skillset I have right now and obviously I will get better with time and reps and being around the system,” Lindley said. “I’m not going to set limitations on myself, low or high. I am just going to play my best football and see where the chips fall from there.”
The Cards had already gone through the process once with Skelton, who has become a candidate to be a starter. If a team does it right, McNulty said, “eventually that forces you to make some decisions with your top two guys.”
McNulty went through it when he was coaching in Jacksonville, when the Jaguars had both Mark Brunell and Rob Johnson, and they were able to trade Johnson for draft picks that eventually became star running back Fred Taylor and fellow running back Tavian Banks.
The Packers famously have developed and dealt quarterbacks for years, sending off Hasselbeck and Brunell while Brett Favre was in place. Matt Flynn was also developed as a seventh-round pick in Green Bay, although he left as a free agent to Seattle. Kolb himself was used as trade bait for Philadelphia when he came to Arizona, although Kolb was a second-round pick and carried with him more expectations.
Kolb and Skelton are two of the reasons it will be difficult to speed up Lindley’s learning process. The Cardinals want to get both – and Bartel, for that matter – as many reps as they can. None of them had an offseason last year, a major reason the Cards think their quarterbacks had trouble in 2011.
There will be an offseason this year, but Lindley is down the priority list.
“It’s going to be a struggle because you only have so many reps,” Whisenhunt acknowledged. “They will have to learn by watching. But hopefully with the extra preseason game, we’ll have a chance to get all those guys reps.”
Rookie minicamp was Lindley’s time. He knew that. The significant work, barring injury, was the three days just completed.
“When you are the fourth guy with veterans, you take what you can get in camp,” Lindley said. “I am looking forward to learning from the mistakes. Don’t make the same ones twice. I’m just looking to get better.”