Quarterbacks Drew Stanton (left) and Shaun Hill became friends when playing for the Lions.
The last time the Cardinals played the Rams, quarterback Drew Stanton took over for an injured Carson Palmer and didn't miss a beat, hitting John Brown for a 48-yard touchdown pass to spark a come-from-behind victory in Week 10.
On the other sideline that day was Shaun Hill, the veteran signal-caller who taught Stanton to always be ready.
Stanton was a second-round pick of the Lions in 2007, but after he threw just 17 passes in his first two seasons, Detroit spent the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft on Matt Stafford. It began a career-long journey as a backup for Stanton, an uninviting
turn but one he needed to accept in order to remain in the NFL.
Stanton was guided by Hill, a fellow backup who joined Detroit in 2010 and actually relegated Stanton to third-string. While there could have been anger, Stanton credits Hill with saving his career. For two years together, they prepared each week like it would be their chance to start.
Indeed it happened, as both saw time in 2010 and played well enough to remain on rosters in the ensuing years. Stanton came over to the Cardinals in 2013, and while he was again second-string – this time to Palmer -- he brought along the work ethic instilled in him by Hill.
"It's a testament to him and that's what I told him," Stanton said that night after the win over the Rams, where Hill was St. Louis' backup. "I said, 'I'm not here without your help.' That's what I've always tried to do. Being a backup in this league, learning that, is pay that forward to some of the young guys that I've come across. Without him, I'm not here right now. It's kind of funny that he was here (that night), seeing that happen."
On Thursday, Stanton and Hill will reunite again, but this time, they'll both have that long-coveted starting spot. Stanton has gone 4-3 this season in a pair of stints in place of Palmer, and hopes to lead the Cardinals on a playoff run.
Hill was supposed to be the starter this season after Rams quarterback Sam Bradford went down with an ACL tear in the preseason, but an early-season injury of his own opened the door for Austin Davis.
The Cardinals neutralized Davis in the 31-14 win on Nov. 9, and coach Jeff Fisher made the switch to Hill. The Rams are 3-1 in the four games since that point, as Hill has thrown for an average of 203.5 yards per game with six touchdowns, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 96.0.
"I thought Austin did some good things early on and throughout," Fisher said. "Then, in the stretch, well, it was the end of the 49ers game and, then of course, the second, third, fourth quarter in Arizona, I just felt like Austin needed to take a deep breath, and I wanted to go with the experience at that point. So we did. We decided to go with Shaun against Denver, and he's played well. The difference has been his experience."
Hill and Stanton sent text messages back and forth on Tuesday, and while both hope to emerge victorious this week, there will be a warm postgame exchange either way.
"I think the world of him," Hill told reporters. "Great guy, great competitor. I'm happy he's got this opportunity to prove himself and he's doing a good job of it."
FELLS APPRECIATIVE OF INCREASED ROLE
Darren Fells was unlikely to even make the Cardinals' active roster midway through training camp, but on Sunday he was the most-used tight end on the team.
The former professional basketball player was on the field for 61 percent of the offensive snaps, and while he didn't catch a
pass, the coaching staff used Fells to block for a running game which set a season-high with 141 yards.
"I loved it," Fells said. "They told me they needed me to block, so I just went out there and did exactly what they told me to do."
Fells is now the team's main blocking tight end, since second-round pick Troy Niklas is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and John Carlson and Rob Housler are better as pass-catchers.
Fells has been inactive for six games this season and used sparingly in most of the others. He said the consistent playing time helped him find a groove as the game wore on.
"The first few plays you're out there, you're just trying to knock off those nerves and get in the rhythm of the game," Fells said. "Once you're out there consecutively, you start getting a feel for the game. And from there, you get on a roll."
CROMARTIE MAKING PROGRESS, STILL A QUESTION FOR RAMS GAME
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was limited Tuesday after missing Monday's practice, making progress on the ankle injury he suffered Sunday against the Chiefs. His availability for Thursday is still up in the air, especially with the quick turnaround.
"He's coming along," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "It's been pretty light going through practice so we actually got to see him run. We'll warm up on game day and see how he feels."
Guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) missed a second straight practice, while Stanton (ankle/knee), linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), linebacker Larry Foote (foot), linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder), defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) remained limited. Safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) has been ruled out.
For the Rams, defensive end Chris Long (ankle) did not practice but everyone else was full-go.
The top images from the game between the Cardinals and Chiefs at University of Phoenix Stadium