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Steady Skelton Shows Enough

Posted Dec 12, 2010

Rookie quarterback doesn't get flustered in first NFL start -- a win

Quarterback John Skelton scrambles for a first down Sunday, eventually ramming Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman (21) to finish the play.


John Skelton watched Steve Breaston come back on the end-around run, and, in the main guy in front, the rookie quarterback did what any football player would do: He drilled linebacker Jason Hunter on a block to spring the 17-yard run.

Later, Skelton needed five yards for a first down on a scramble, but instead of sliding after five yards, he dipped his shoulder and rammed Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman.

They are plays that pump up a player, pump up a team. Skelton, though, barely reacted.

The same went after the game, straightforwardly talking about each as matter-of-fact – saying he didn’t want to give up a run for the first down and, on the block, “that’s the way the play is called.”

That's just the way it is. Just like Skelton.

“John is, like, emotionless,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

Even-keeled is a phrase made for Skelton, and if the Cardinals learned anything Sunday, it was that Skelton would carry that personality into games. His first start ended in a 43-13 victory over the Broncos, and while Skelton wasn’t the reason for the win, he wasn’t doing anything to lose it either, and that was enough.

He didn’t throw an interception. He didn’t blink at the end of the first half when center Lyle Sendlein’s thumb problems caused two straight botched shotgun snaps. He didn’t flinch when, in his first four pass attempts – all incompletions – he watched Fitzgerald, receiver Steve Breaston and running back Jason Wright make drops.

“Nothing really flusters him and that’s a great quality to have in a quarterback,” Fitzgerald said.

Saturday night, Skelton fell asleep watching a Vince Lombardi documentary on HBO (and it shouldn’t be lost that Lombardi is Fordham University’s most famous sports alum and Skelton would like to be No. 2). Nerves weren’t a problem.

If anything, Skelton said, passing game coordinator Mike Miller tells him he doesn’t show enough emotion.

“But that’s the way I am,” Skelton said, “and that’s the way I’ll always be.”

So it’s a start in Skelton’s development, a part of his NFL education. His Sunday numbers were at best pedestrian – 15-for-37 for 146 yards – but when he didn’t make any crucial mistakes, that turned out to be plenty good.

He had kicker Jay Feely to lean on (although, as both Fitzgerald and Skelton noted, the Cards still aren’t reaching the end zone enough) and running back Tim Hightower, who recovered from a bad fumble to gain more than 100 of his 148 yards in the fourth quarter to salt away the game.

There was a little leadership sprinkled in too. After Hightower’s first TD run, Skelton told him, “See what happens when you hold on to the football?”

That’s the kind of thing that earns praise from coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had talked repeatedly of Skelton not being ready and then verbally patted Skelton on the back Sunday.

“He’s by no means a finished product,” Whisenhunt said. “But I’m very pleased with how he handled himself today.”

Nothing that happened Sunday changed the Cards’ offseason plans, nor will it – unless Skelton suddenly posts three straight 330-yard, 3-touchdown games to finish out the year. At this point, Whisenhunt won’t even commit to Skelton as starter next week, although it would be a surprise if Skelton doesn’t get the chance in Carolina.  

The Cardinals will still look closely at drafting a quarterback and look over veteran possibilities. Skelton was always going to be in next year’s plans regardless. Whatever he shows this year, Whisenhunt said last week, was a “bonus.” The bonus included a win Sunday.

“I think we’ve discovered the secret for us,” Whisenhunt said. “We just have to get a whole bunch of rookie quarterbacks and start a new one every week, because we’re 2-0 starting rookies. That may be the formula.”

Skelton isn’t going to analyze it. He’s just going to play when the Cards ask him to play.

“I thought I played decent,” Skelton said without much of an expression.

He wouldn’t react any other way.
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