GLENDALE, Ariz. — Trust is a backstage worker in the NFL: unseen and underappreciated, yet vital to the success of the actors.
Trust is the reason Drew Stanton followed Bruce Arians to Arizona. Trust is the reason Carson Palmer heeds every word Stanton tells him. Trust is the reason Stanton will be Arians’ backup quarterback when the regular season begins on Sept. 10 in Detroit, one of Stanton’s prior stops.
“He knows this offense in and out,” Arians said.
Arians always cites that knowledge and their history as sources of comfort, but Stanton’s value to the Cardinals runs deeper. When asked Wednesday how Stanton helps him, Palmer paused to consider the enormity of the question.
“How doesn’t he help me?” he said. “In every way, almost like a psychologist. Sometimes, when you’re going through a certain play, certain protection or whatever it may be, he’s a sounding board.
“I don’t trust easily and he’s earned it. This is going on five years now. There’s times you play with somebody and it’s in one ear and out the other because you don’t quite have that history together. I know if he has something to say on the sideline, in a game whatever it may be — on a Wednesday as we’re preparing — there’s a reason for it and it’s something I need to really look at and think about.”
Arians developed that trust in Stanton when the two were paired for the 2012 season in Indianapolis. The Cardinals coach said Wednesday that Stanton has nothing more to prove to him.
“No, just play at the consistent level that he does in practice,” he said. “He had a great spring, probably the best spring he’s ever had and it’s carried over to camp.”
Palmer’s trust in Stanton developed a year later, in unusual fashion.
“When he started letting me pick the wine out,” Stanton said of their first season together in Arizona. “Wine is one of the hobbies that I really enjoy. He started talking to me about, ‘wow, I love Opus One.’ And I’m like, ‘geez that’s a really expensive wine.’ I had it in my head that I can get three bottles of Cakebread for the same price as I can get a bottle of Opus One. It just opened up this dialogue for us.”
It also opened up a friendship wherein it’s doubtful that Palmer trusts anyone on the team more than he trusts Stanton.
“He’s extremely, extremely bright aside from football, but he sees the game just brilliantly,” Palmer said. “I doubt he would ever do it, but he could be a phenomenal coach. He’s helped me a ton just over the last years from fundamentals to technique to seeing certain pressures to film study.”
Stanton and Blaine Gabbert both took more reps this offseason due to Palmer’s decreased workload. Arians sees the benefits in camp, and he also believes Gabbert’s presence and starting experience have pushed Stanton to compete a little harder for his backup role after a lackluster 2016 season.
Like any player, Stanton still wants to start in the NFL, or at least hold onto his current rank, but it is not an all-consuming fire that blinds him to his other duties, including that of Palmer’s trusted advisor.
“I know how hard that [position] is and when I’ve been in that position, how vital it is to have somebody that you can lean on, that you can go to, that can be an extension of you,” Stanton said. “That’s the value that I try and bring with that. I’m not worried about getting credit for it. That’s not why I do it. It’s more so how is it going to help us win football games?”
Stanton said that duty extends to his relationship with Gabbert and fourth-string QB Trevor Knight.
“I’m an open book,” he said. “At this point in my career, I’m trying to help everybody else out here reap the benefits of what this offense, what this team, this organization can provide for people.
“You have to break down those barriers sometimes on both sides and being able to do that, at the end of the day, I truly feel that part of my calling in being here is trying to help Blaine prolong his career and Trevor’s career.”
Stanton is entering the final year of his contract. With Palmer still here and Gabbert showing promise for the future, his time in Arizona may close with less than a season’s worth of starts. If that’s the case, he insists he’ll still take pride in what be brought to the franchise.
“I was young and stupid like everybody else coming into this league,” he said. “I dealt with some difficult times early in my career so I appreciated it but it made me work that much harder to get in this position. When it’s all said and done, being able to look back at my career, it’s something I’m going to be very proud of.”
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