Rookie linebacker O'Brien Schofield (50) gets playing time Sunday with veterans Joey Porter (55) and Paris Lenon (51) against the Rams.
Ken Whisenhunt hasn't officially decided on a quarterback.
Part of that, he said Monday – the day after a 19-6 loss to St. Louis, the Cards' seventh straight defeat – was injury-related. The coach knows backup Max Hall is out with a shoulder injury. Derek Anderson is being looked at for a concussion, although Whisenhunt made clear the quarterback position hasn't been producing well enough, and Anderson has been in the lineup the past five games.
That leaves John Skelton, who played a little bit at the end of Sunday's game and who seems like the likely choice to start Sunday against Denver.
Why not? The Cardinals, at 3-9, aren't going to make the playoffs barring the craziest circumstances in NFL history. Playing Skelton makes sense. Playing other rookies or young players does too – at least, on the surface.
Whisenhunt, however, pumped the brakes on that belief.
"You have to be very careful about how you do things with that," Whisenhunt said. "We have an obligation to our fans and to our team to put them in the best position to win."
That doesn't mean the Cards aren't playing young players. Whisenhunt specifically praised No. 1 draft pick and nose tackle Dan Williams for a good game Sunday, Willliams' best as a pro. Rookie linebacker Daryl Washington already got extended time earlier this season, while fellow rookie linebacker O'Brien Schofield rotated in to replace veteran Clark Haggans every few series Sunday.
There is an enthusiasm from guys like Schofield and Skelton to get on the field. Losing pains them like the veterans, but some of the hurt is offset by the chance to finally play.
They understand Whisenhunt's philosophy, however.
"Easing guys in and seeing what we have, getting guys involved, that's going to be a big help for the team for the future," Schofield said, "but it's a hard subject. You have older guys working hard to help this team win and when things aren't going to way you want and then coach throws young guys in, that's not necessarily the right route all the time. We don't want to be looking like we are giving up."
It's a fine line on a team with veterans who believed the team was built to win. The losses eat at each guy anyway, but seeing a winnable NFC West slip away has increased the pain.
Most veteran players have been in a similar situation before, so it's not as if they don't understand the business.
"The coach is never wrong in that situation," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "If he feels he has exhausted all his other opportunities, you go the direction you want to go. I think a lot of veteran guys here, they've busted their butts for how many games now … (but) we haven't got the job done. I can see it either way."
Watching the quarterback position is a good way to gauge Whisenhunt's direction. Skelton, like Hall before him, will be expected to make mistakes when he plays – like the missed sight adjustment with Larry Fitzgerald Sunday, causing Skelton to hurl the ball deep out of bounds and be called for intentional grounding.
While Skelton would get experience with playing, Whisenhunt insisted he is already "excited" for Skelton's future. In other words, he doesn't need to see anything from Skelton on the field this year for him to have faith in what could happen in the next year or two, which is why Whisenhunt said anything Skelton shows the rest of this season "is a bonus."
Skelton wants to play. But he already has learned the other side of the equation.
"I kind of know where the veterans are coming from," Skelton said. "No one wants to pack in the season and start preparing for the future. Everyone wants to win right now. I am sure that's what a lot of guys that have been around want.
"People call it a rebuilding year and you want to see the young guys play. It's finding a balance. You don't want to throw the towel in too early."
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