Quarterbacks Rich Bartel (2), John Skelton (behind Bartel) and Max Hall (6) are fighting to back up Kevin Kolb (4) during training camp.
FLAGSTAFF – Rich Bartel feigned surprise when it was suggested Kevin Kolb was a lock to be the Cardinals' starting quarterback.
"I'm going to keep fighting, and 21 million dollars later, we'll see what happens," Bartel deadpanned.
The reference was to the reported guaranteed money of Kolb's new contract, one of a few reasons Kolb will be behind center. Kolb is also the best quarterback the Cards have right now, which is the biggest reason.
Behind Kolb, however, there is competition. Three players – Bartel, John Skelton and Max Hall – are looking to fill what will probably be two roster spots (the Cards could go with two quarterbacks, but the Cards have shied away from that since 2007 when injuries hit both Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart).
The depth chart currently has, in order, Skelton, Bartel and Hall. All three were effective in their time during the first preseason game. Each threw a touchdown pass. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that effort "muddied the picture" in terms of his decision-making, making the eventual choice that much more difficult.
But all three know there will eventually be a choice.
"Kevin comes in highly touted, he's having a great camp and he was behind the eight-ball having to sit out those (early) practices," Skelton said. "But that week or so when it was just the three of us, we were pushing each other. One of us would make a play and another of us would make a play too. It stinks because we know in all likelihood someone will have to be let go, and whoever that is it will be rough because I think we have great chemistry in the quarterbacks room.
"We don't really talk about it but I think everyone knows in the back of their head and it's a tough situation for anyone to be in."
Skelton, who started four games at the end of last season and was a fifth-round pick, seems the safest of all. He is expected to be the backup. But Whisenhunt noted that Skelton still needs to improve on commanding the huddle and understanding the plays. Skelton also lost the offseason that could have helped him, and didn't play much last preseason because, at the time, Leinart and Derek Anderson got most of the work.
Just because Skelton had four starts, Whisenhunt said, "that doesn't prepare him automatically to take the reins and run with it."
Nothing in this competition is guaranteed. Hall went from being the backup coming out of camp last year – and winning his first NFL start – to possibly being nudged out by Bartel on the roster (neither Bartel or Hall are practice-squad eligible). Bartel, meanwhile, has been through this many times. He was plucked from the UFL late last season when Hall was injured, and has appeared in only one NFL game despite this being his third NFL season at 28 years old.
"It's a little bit of everything, right?" Bartel said. "It's exciting, it's stressful, it's fun. It's unique. At the end of the day, no one else can really relate to you except the other guys in that room that you are competing with. From that aspect, the dynamic is awesome."
The one benefit is that all three were around in 2010, allowing a comfort level Kolb wasn't afforded. Both Skelton and Bartel acknowledge having an offseason would have helped, but Bartel said he finally feels mentally caught up from when he first arrived and Skelton said his camp this year is "night and day" compared to last year.
Even Hall spoke about how his two-minute, game-winning drive against Oakland was the most at ease he has been on an NFL field.
"That comes with experience, and last year, whether it was good or bad experience, it was experience," Hall said. "It got me better."
Whisenhunt said he prefers difficult decisions when it comes to the roster. All three quarterbacks are hoping they can provide that kind of pressure.
"The mentality isn't that you are competing with John or with Max," Bartel said. "I'm not throwing against John or Max. I am throwing against the defense.
"Hoping someone does bad is not why you want to earn the job. You want to earn the job because you are the best guy for the job."