TEMPE, Ariz. — This was not the plan. Not even close.
But, as the saying goes, plans change and the Arizona Cardinals’ plan this week is to start Logan Thomas at quarterback in the regular season finale at San Francisco.
The rookie will be the fourth different quarterback to start a game this season for the Cardinals, who clinch the NFC West with a win and a Rams victory at Seattle. Scenarios still exist for the Cardinals to secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as well.
“First chance to play out one of my dreams,” Thomas said Wednesday, following his first practice running the first-team offense. “It’s a huge honor.”
Like with Ryan Lindley under center the week before, the Cardinals don’t need Thomas to beat the 49ers. They do need him, however, to make good throws with the football, something that did not happen enough with Lindley running the offense.
Against Seattle, Lindley completed only 18 of his 44 passes, extending his streak without a touchdown to 225 career attempts, the longest in NFL history.
By comparison, Thomas needed just three throws to record his first score, an 81-yard play to Andre Ellington at Denver Oct. 5. It was Thomas’ first career completion, and to this day, remains his only completed pass in nine attempts this season.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said of jumping in as the starter this late in the season. “It’s going to be a lot of learning, got a lot of studying for me, but at the same time, you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
When he named Thomas the starter Monday, head coach Bruce Arians said he would have a “quick hook” should his young signal caller struggle.
“If I prepare the right way and play the right way I think I can play, the way I plan to play, then it shouldn’t be a problem,” Thomas said.
Drafted in the fourth round (120th overall), Thomas was the sixth quarterback selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. In 47 career games at Virginia Tech, he set school career-records in pass attempts (1,248), pass completions (693), passing yards (9,003), touchdown passes (53), total offense (10,354) and combined touchdowns (77).
Despite the gaudy numbers, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback struggled with accuracy, completing 55.6 percent of his passes. He was considered a project. He needed seasoning. In other words coaching. And what better mentors than Arians himself, a former Virginia Tech quarterback, assistant head coach Tom Moore and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens to mold the 23-year-old with a cannon for an arm.
Thomas was to spend his first NFL season on the sideline, watching, learning and asking questions of the two veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
Knee injuries to Palmer and Stanton, plus the ineffectiveness of Lindley, has accelerated Thomas’ ascension from third-string quarterback to starter.
“We don’t make any excuses. We just go and play,” Thomas said. “We always have that ‘next man up’ mentality and now it’s my turn.”
Sunday will be just his third appearance in an NFL game.
“He’s ready,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “We’re all behind him. I think he can definitely be a playmaker and be dangerous back there, not only with his arm, but being able to use his feet as well.”
Though his playing time has been limited to 17 snaps, 16 of which came against the Broncos when he was pressed into duty after Stanton suffered a concussion, Thomas is charged with trying to inject some life into a Cardinals offense that has failed to reach the end zone in the last nine quarters and has just two touchdowns in the last 22 quarters dating back to the second half against Detroit in Week 11.
“The guys around me have done a great job of making me comfortable,” Thomas said. “They just say, ‘hey, just go out there and be confident and put it out there and we’ll make the plays for you.’
“We’ve got a great corps of receivers, great offensive line and tailbacks who are playing well right now.Those guys will pick me up and carry me when I’m down and hopefully I’ll do the same for them.”