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From Third-String To First Start, Trace McSorley Up For Cardinals

Buccaneers and Brady opponent on Christmas night

Cardinals quarterback Trace McSorley is set to make his first NFL start on Christmas night against the Buccaneers.
Cardinals quarterback Trace McSorley is set to make his first NFL start on Christmas night against the Buccaneers.

John Skelton was a rookie in 2010, third on the quarterback depth chart that had veteran Derek Anderson up top and fellow rookie Max Hall as the backup.

Skelton wasn't supposed to play. But by Week 14, Anderson was out with a concussion and Hall was done with a shoulder injury. The Cardinals were finishing a lost season having dropped seven straight. It was Skelton's turn, ready or not.

Just like Trace McSorley, this Sunday when the Buccaneers visit on Sunday night, with Kyler Murray already lost for the year with a knee injury and Colt McCoy ruled out with a concussion.

"In Trace's case, the last game (after Kyler was already hurt), you're on the sideline and thinking, 'I'm one play away, when's it going to happen,' " Skelton said. "When it happens in the moment, you don't have time to think you're finding the center to get some snaps, you just go out and play and finish the game.

"But when you go into the week knowing you're going to start, it's a little different. Now you're the guy in the meeting rooms, you're the guy in the practice, you're the guy before and after practice working with guys. It's easy to say the old, 'I'm preparing like I'm the starter.' But it doesn't really translate. When you're getting maybe one rep a practice and then getting every rep, it changes a lot."

The parallels aren't exact, but the Cardinals will go into Sunday's Christmas night game against the Buccaneers again closing out a struggling season.

Like Skelton, McSorley is making his first career start, although he has been in the NFL four seasons rather than Skelton's first-year debut.

"Having a few years under my belt, knowing how the NFL operates, how a week of practice goes, it'll be my first start but being in my fourth year … there are things that come with my first start but (experience) helps me a little bit," McSorley said.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said backups like McSorley "do the best they can" when forced into a game without getting reps. Starters, including quarterbacks, essentially get all the reps during a week. It means McSorley has done little most of the season when it comes to reps, with McCoy running the scout team when Murray was healthy.

It's why McSorley will have to be the one starter to give up some reps this week, because Kingsbury wants to allow newcomer and new No. 2 David Blough some reps in the offense just in case something happens to McSorley.

But seeing McSorley with first-team practice is something to which Kingsbury looks forward. So far this season, McSorley has completed 15-of-29 passes for 166 yards and three interceptions with 34 yards on five rushing attempts in three appearances.

"I hate to use the term gamer, but he's got a lot of moxie," Kingsbury said. "Teammates respond to that well."

While the Cardinals are going through musical chairs at QB, the Bucs are exactly the opposite – even with 45-year-old Tom Brady behind center. Brady represents one of only three players across the league to have thrown every pass attempted by a quarterback for a team. (The other two are the Seahawks' Geno Smith and the Lions' Jared Goff.)

"He's the G.O.A.T., no other way to say it," McSorley said. "But I'm going against their defense, not him."

Hall was undrafted but more polished – at least a little bit – than Skelton a raw fifth-round selection out of Fordham, both making the roster after Matt Leinart had been a surprise cut at the end of the preseason.

McSorley at least has enough in his background to be able to help Blough, who has been around a week.

Cardinals quarterback John Skelton during his first start in 2010.
Cardinals quarterback John Skelton during his first start in 2010.

"It helps me to learn things even a little bit deeper to take on, I don't want to say teaching role, but if he's asking me questions I've got to come up with the answers," McSorley said.

As for nerves, McSorley said it was only natural to have some, but as wide receiver A.J. Green said, "he's got nothing to lose."

"I want to let myself feel that excitement, feel that a little bit and enjoy the moment," McSorley said. "But I want to be focused."

Skelton's start turned out well. The Cardinals won, 43-13, not because Skelton shined but because the defense and kicker Jay Feely dominated the Broncos.

"I walked off the field and, I use this in my daily life, it's never as good or it's never as bad as you thought it was," Skelton said.

"I'm walking off grinning ear to ear but I realized I could've played a lot better. … In Trace's case, do what you can, put your teammates in position to be successful, and don't worry about the ramifications until you're critiquing yourself Monday morning."

PRACTICE SQUAD MOVE

The Cardinals on Tuesday swapped out their practice squad/new third-string quarterback, releasing Carson Strong and signing James Morgan.

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