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Grooming A Quarterback

With Bradford coming to town, Skelton patiently waits his turn

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Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (left) and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford are two rookies having dynamically different first seasons.




Sam Bradford went No. 1.

John Skelton went 154 picks later.

The Cardinals and the Rams each drafted a quarterback last April, ostensibly to groom them for the future. The plans for a first-round pick – especially the top guy in the entire draft – are different than a fifth-round selection, so it's no surprise Bradford has been the starter for St. Louis all season while the Cards have kept Skelton far from actual game action.

And it isn't going to change, with the struggling Cardinals playing host to Bradford and the Rams Sunday. Bradford will continue to make his case to be the future top quarterback in the NFC West. Skelton will wait.

"(Quarterbacks coach) Chris Miller and (passing game coordinator) Mike Miller were both honest with me from the start," Skelton said. "I knew it is a huge jump from Fordham to the NFL and I didn't expect to be thrown right into the fire. You want to play, but sometimes waiting is better."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt made that clear earlier this week by saying Skelton was unlikely to play this season, barring an injury, despite the Cards' place in the standings. Veteran Derek Anderson remains the starter for now, and undrafted rookie Max Hall is still the backup and the man who would take over if Whisenhunt decided to pull the plug on Anderson.

Where does that leave Skelton? Learning.

"It's where a guy is starting out from," Mike Miller said. "Why did (the Rams) throw Bradford in there? I think Bradford was starting out in a spot with his maturity and his growth as a quarterback further along than John did, and that's maturity in the position, not as a human being. That's part of it.

"Max, we felt, was further along this year. When we had struggles the midpoint of the season, where (Max) was in his development, we could give him a chance. We just didn't feel John was that far along yet."

Miller met with Skelton when Hall was elevated to starter, explaining why the coaches didn't feel Skelton was ready to take on such a role himself. Whisenhunt said part of the reason the Cardinals don't want to play Skelton is the concern that with playing him too quickly, "you run the risk of damaging a young player."

Skelton would like to play. But on the subject of potential damage to himself, the rookie defers.

"Coach Whisenhunt and the whole staff have been around a while and they have been around young quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, and I think they know what they are talking about when it comes to stuff like that," Skelton said. "This is my first go-round. Who's to say I know more than what they know? It's all part of the process."

The process has been much quicker for someone like Bradford, who said he is "10 times more comfortable" now than he was when he played against the Cards in the season-opener. He has 11 touchdown passes and just one interception in the past six games as the Rams have carved out a 5-6 record and a share of first-place in the NFC West.

"(Sam) certainly doesn't act or people around him don't feel like we have a rookie quarterback," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

But has Miller noted, "Guys take different lengths of time to get there." Miller ticked off all the things Skelton does better now than when he first arrived – from awareness of plays and protections to technique issues like drops and shoulder tilts – but the thought process was always that "learning the different level of the game would take some time."

Whisenhunt already said he is playing to win the rest of this season, not to use the time to evaluate young players.

That means Skelton will be sitting, which, regardless of reality, isn't fun.

"It's definitely hard to just sit," Skelton said. "You go through all the meetings, all the practices, and usually get rewarded by playing and so it's hard not to do that at the end of the week.

"I think I am doing everything they are asking of me and what I am asking of myself. I can tell (my play) is tenfold compared to when I first came in here."

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