Quarterback Derek Anderson (right) and receiver Max Komar talk during last week's game.
The day Derek Anderson signed with the Cardinals back in March, he said all the right things about coming in as a backup and pushing Matt Leinart as he spoke to reporters on a conference call.
Being the starter, however, was the goal, and Anderson thought he'd be there by the time the Cards went to St. Louis to open the regular season.
"(It was) in my head," Anderson admitted Monday, his first day of practice as the undisputed starter. "But I wasn't going to tell you guys that."
Anderson smiled as he said it. He had just come from quarterback drama for two years in Cleveland. He didn't need to insert himself into more, even though as training camp ended that's exactly where Anderson found himself in Arizona.
The difference this time was that the Cardinals' situation felt a lot more about what Leinart could or couldn't do rather than being about Anderson. Anderson was more of a subplot, the guy who just happened to be the "other" quarterback in the equation.
In Cleveland, Anderson was coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2007 and yet the Browns still drafted golden boy Brady Quinn in the first round. Not only did Quinn have the looks and Notre Dame pedigree, he was raised in Ohio. Anderson was fighting uphill from the start. Anderson didn't help things with his own poor play when he did play the last two seasons, including a difficult 2009 in which Anderson had three touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a dismal 42.1 passing rating in seven starts.
"I wouldn't say the whole thing was sour," Anderson said of his time in Cleveland. "I made a lot of great friendships and we had something special in our 10-6 year in 2007. But things went on that were out of my control that were frustrating."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cardinals are only judging Anderson on how he has done since coming to Arizona, wiping the slate clean of Anderson's past. Anderson has improved his accuracy, Whisenhunt said (he only has a 52.9 completion percentage in his career), and there is a belief the staff can better Anderson's game as it did with Kurt Warner and Leinart.
The other parts of Anderson's game work for Whisenhunt. The coach noticed Anderson's body language change a bit over the past two weeks as Anderson saw a chance to become the starter.
"It's about how his teammates respond to him and the confidence they have in him when he goes into the huddle," Whisenhunt said, before adding, "it comes down to how he performs."
Given that Anderson is clearly the man now – with Leinart gone and rookie Max Hall the backup – his performance will be under the microscope from everyone.
Anderson said his Cardinals' receiving corps is "a little more talented" than what he played with in Cleveland. He also looks back at his 2007 season – 3,787 yards, 29 TD passes (with 19 interceptions) and career-bests in passer rating (82.5) and completion percentage (56.5) – and insists "it wasn't a mirage."
The receivers are ready for Anderson too. "There is an adjustment period, but it started when Derek got here in the offseason," wideout Steve Breaston said. "So we have adjusted to him."
Whether Anderson can stay in place will be one of the early season storylines. Rookie Max Hall has impressed (although Whisenhunt continues to try and downplay the hype Hall has been generating) and there is always a chance Hall could get an opportunity to play if things wobble under Anderson.
For now, though, Anderson has become the man who replaced Kurt Warner and the guy entrusted to lead the Cards' attempt at a third straight division title. Just like he thought he'd be when he signed.
"I am obviously happy," Anderson said, "with the way things worked out."
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