The Hall of Fame Game is finally here. Although players typically loathe playing an additional game in the preseason, the Cardinals couldn't have hoped for a better scenario to host their quarterback competition. Having the extra week's work to evaluate the Q's is invaluable, especially the extra game. The big-eye-in-the-sky-don't- lie and the Cardinals coaching staff will need all the reps they can possibly get in order to determine whether their QB is going to be Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
Having said this, nobody knows how many reps each quarterback will get in this game. I would imagine they might get more reps (8-10) than an established QB would get. Neither Kolb or Skelton have proven anything yet. Although both have showed flashes of having the acumen needed to be a QB in the National Football League, they have much to prove and the only way they can prove what they can do is to play. Larry Fitzgerald may get three- reps and then take a seat but everyone else may see some extended reps during the preseason.
With this in mind, allow me to offer some insight as to how one might evaluate the quarterbacks this preseason. With full humility, I offer this Quarterback Competition Preseason Primer:
Rhythm & Timing:
Look for which quarterback throws the ball with rhythm and timing. How many times do you see Kolb/Skelton take the snap, go through their drop and throw the ball immediately after setting up? For now, forget about whether or not the pass is completed, whether or not it was a bad pass or the receiver dropped the ball, look for rhythm and timing from Kolb or Skelton.
Kurt Warner was the Grand Master Double Sensei Jedi at throwing the ball with rhythm and timing because his pre- snap read was so strong. So much of the time, Kurt knew where he was going with the ball before he even took the snap and if he didn't know he had a pretty good idea. It didn't matter if it was a three-step drop, five-step drop or seven-step drop, Kurt Warner threw the ball on timing because his brain told him where the defense was and what they might do and where they might go.
If one of the quarterbacks seems to be doing this better than the other and not throwing picks or balls that are almost picked, one can make some safe assumptions. The Q is seeing the field well and his eyes are sending clear messages to the part of the brain that controls problem solving. If his brain tells him to be ready for "A" and "A" happens the ball comes out. If his brain tells him to be ready for "A" and "B" happens, he knows exactly where to go when "B" happens and the ball comes out. Admittedly, this is an egregious oversimplification but throwing with rhythm and timing tells me that the Q's brain is working and that his eyes are seeing coverage.
Pressure & Extending the Play:
With rhythm and timing in mind, watch which Q seems to have the ability to make something happen when the play breaks down. Throwing with rhythm and timing is all well and good but this is the NFL, plays are going to break down, coverage works. What happens when all seems lost?
John Skelton seems to have a clear-cut advantage over Kolb in this regard. Skelton has shown the innate and rare ability to FEEL the rush, keep his poise, and extend the play by eluding the rush. In addition, he has shown the ability to make plays once the harmony of the play breaks down and the string-quartet starts playing Nearer to Thee, Oh God. When all seems lost, Skelton seems to make plays. This is an intangible that must be weighed and measured when determining whom your quarterback is going to be.
Protecting the Football:
Count how many times Kolb or Skelton throws the ball into a window that was not open. The defense could very well be the strength of this football team and it will be imperative for the quarterbacks to protect the ball by not throwing picks, putting the defense in bad situations. Interceptions are going to happen; even the very best throw a ball into a window that was never open. But this could be especially important for the Cardinals in 2012.
Decision making is a critical component to developing a Q. Throwing with confidence (rhythm and timing) is what coordinators and head coaches want to see from their quarterbacks, but throwing the ball into traffic only the I-10 and Broadway curve could appreciate is a warning sign for all parties involved. It says the Q isn't seeing the field properly or his judgment is impaired. Making good, sound decisions and knowing when to force a ball and when not to injects an offense with confidence that the right guy is running the show; forcing balls into tiny windows where players turn and look at each other with palms up and jaws slacked does nothing for an offense's trust and belief in their Q.
Command & Control:
Look for how crisply the offense gets into and out of the huddle. Last year, both quarterbacks had difficulty getting the play called correctly for a myriad of reasons. The lockout presented a world of problems for Q's in new systems or those whom merely lacked experience. A thousand-reps were lost last off-season in OTA's, without mini-camps, and training camp became a crash-course in terminology and the havoc it can create for the most difficult job in professional sports.
Kolb and Skelton have greatly improved in this area and will need to continue demonstrating their command if they wish to be the starter.
Idiosyncrasies & Nuance:
Leadership is critical for a quarterback. By default quarterbacks must be good leaders even if it doesn't come naturally. The act of being the guy that takes the snap every play and then doing something with the ball on every play, places every QB in a leadership role whether they like it or not. And when you talk about leadership never forget that leaders are doers, it's about doing.
But...remember, there's something very powerful about watching a QB vituperate a teammate, chastising him for not doing something correctly. Not only does this help to hold teammates accountable, but it helps to keep the Q accountable too. Even the most arrogant and delusional quarterbacks I have ever played with have a hard time getting after others if they are stinking the place up. And, if a Q is going to chew a teammate out for not doing something right, it shows a command and confidence by the Q that he KNOWS what should have happened.
Finally, throughout this preseason and QB competition, look for an offense that moves the chains. Call it charisma, call it machismo, call it whatever you like, but the Cards coaches will be looking for a QB that gets his offense going and picks up first-downs - whether through the air or on the ground. It is one of the most elusive intangibles a QB can have and the only way I can describe it is by saying, "you'll know it when you see it." Productivity is what matters most to coaches, not the success of one player but the overall success of the offensive unit.
Isn't that right, Mr. Tebow?