Quarterback Ryan Lindley fires a pass under the watchful eye of coach Bruce Arians during a recent minicamp practice.
Smarts Ryan Lindley had.
When he went into the Scouting combine in 2012, he even thought he could make a run at a perfect score of 50 on the Wonderlic test, before being advised that scoring too high on the Wonderlic could give teams pause as much as getting a really low score. (Lindley ended up with a 35, second among QBs to Andrew Luck's 37.)
Lindley was also intelligent enough to know his rookie season could have submarined any chance he had to remain an Arizona Cardinal.
Yet he's still here. The Cardinals had four quarterbacks on the roster by the time 2012 ended and Lindley is the only one left. Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer were all released. Drew Stanton and Carson Palmer were added. And Lindley is trying to prove that
he can be better than the six games of struggles – no touchdowns, seven interceptions – that were his rookie résumé.
"It's on tape," Lindley said. "It's set in stone, what happened. But how I go out there every day can't be dictated off what I did last year. I'm going to get better each day from yesterday's practice, not from the Bears game or the Jets game – although there are a lot of things I could look at there."
Lindley smiles as he says it. He wears no blinders. "I know what happened, I learned what I learned," he added. "I can't let it damage my confidence, but at the same time I can't repeat my mistakes."
Lindley's potential watch-and-learn rookie season was gone by midseason. Kolb was hurt and Skelton's play was inconsistent as the Cardinals' season skidded off the road. After the team built a lead in Atlanta Nov. 18 in spite of Skelton missing a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone, then-coach Ken Whisenhunt decided – somewhat surprisingly – to put Lindley in the game. The Cardinals ended up losing.
Lindley started four games after that plus got a relief stint during a crushing 58-0 loss in Seattle. There were some intriguing moments but Lindley couldn't find consistent play. He completed just 52 percent of his passes and threw for more than 141 yards just once.
"I think he'd be the first to tell you there were some ups and downs and quite frankly he probably wasn't ready to be thrown into the fire," General Manager Steve Keim said.
Lindley felt like he could digest the offense in the meeting room. "But when everything is flying it's kind of a different deal," Lindley said. "It's trial by fire."
"I took a lot of lumps last year," he said. "That's how you have to learn and I've learned a ton from it. It's rough because you take a big hit to your confidence sometimes but that's a big part too, learning to bounce back from it.
"I think I went through a roller coaster. At first it was kind of a shock and I was trying to handle what I could do and control. After that, near the end of the year, it was just, 'Let's try and salvage something out of this.' "
The question was whether the Cardinals wanted to salvage Lindley. The organization was deliberate as it sorted out its quarterbacks. Kolb was gone in early March thanks to a looming roster bonus, but Skelton and Hoyer remained even after Stanton was signed.
Lindley got married in March, right when he was in NFL limbo. He told his wife, "Hey listen, if we're not here, we're not here. We'll figure it out what to do." His agent told him to just let it play out, and Lindley – a man of religious faith – decided wherever he'd end up was meant to be.
Turned out, Arizona was still the place. Skelton was cut April 1, the day before the Cardinals got Palmer in a trade. Lindley's spot was solidified further when the team released Hoyer in favor of undrafted rookie Caleb TerBush.
"When we looked at the 'ups,' we saw some of the things with his arm strength, potential accuracy, and some of the throws he made that were impressive," Keim said. "He had the natural tools and the physical skillset to become a solid player. It's just going to take time and coaching and we felt like having (QB coach) Freddie (Kitchens) and (coach) Bruce (Arians) and (offensive assistant) Tom Moore, where better could a guy like that develop? That was a major reason we felt comfortable moving forward with Ryan."
Barring injury, it's unlikely Lindley will be higher than third on the depth chart this season. Palmer is the unquestioned starter and Stanton was signed to be the backup. Lindley spent the offseason on the second practice field, getting a ton of reps as he tries to rehab his status.
"Mentally, it's a fresh start," Lindley said, "but in the back of my head I know I have to get it going."
That's the smart approach, kind of like how he looked at the Wonderlic a couple of years ago. Not that he wouldn't mind another shot with that, either.
"I think I'd try now, definitely," Lindley said with a grin. "Give me a day, so I can look up a couple practice questions. I'll go for the 50 after that."