The thrill of the Cardinals’ quarterback competition is about to begin
Someday in August, a decision could rock the Valley. Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks will declare his starting quarterback for Week 1 of the NFL season. The moment could polarize the locker room and sports fans all across Arizona.
Enjoy the calm before the storm.
Sam Bradford vs. Josh Rosen is not a guarantee. It might not be necessary. It could be one of the most gripping competitions of training camp, worthy of national headlines.
This much is certain: Rosen has won the Super Bowl of first impressions. He has dispelled questions about his commitment to football. He’s earned glowing praise from grizzled veterans. He’s impressed his most discerning critics, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen, the men who must protect him.
That’s a heavy accomplishment for a 21-year old who came to Arizona on the strong tailwind of hype, a kid who arrived as a brash loudmouth and instantly changed the narrative.
“No one is going to say you’re stepping on toes if you’re doing as much as you can every single day,” Rosen said.
For now, the quarterback competition has been clean and full of camaraderie. Bradford texted Rosen shortly after the NFL draft, offering his support. Rosen has been careful to straddle the line, knowing his place while simultaneously declaring his talent. Mike Glennon has faded happily into the background, content to be somebody’s $4 million backup.
So far, there are no bruised egos or hurt feelings.
“With Sam, Mike and Chad (Kanoff), it’s a really awesome, productive, up-tempo quarterback room,” Rosen said Tuesday. “I’m finishing reps, coming off the two-minute period today, and Sam’s giving me tips here and there. I’ll be there for him for anything he ever needs from me. He’s been flattening out the learning curve for me.”
Wilks has made it clear that Bradford will enter training camp as the team’s starting quarterback, but Rosen will have an opportunity to win the job on merit. It’s an open competition that seems to hinge on the degenerative knee of a duct-taped veteran, and if Rosen’s brainpower and arm strength are indomitable forces.
The rookie has a unique advantage. He excels at communication. He hates clichés and people who bring their cellphones to dinner. He’s personable and fully engaged, exhibiting early traits of a great leader. His persona is much different than Bradford’s, an Oklahoma native who is more humbled, reserved and laid-back.
“I like his spunk,” tight end Jermaine Gresham said. “(He has a) great personality. He’s not dry.”
Rosen has also benefitted from the Bradford Protection Plan, where the veteran has been kept on a leash to preserve his damaged knee. That meant Rosen received rare reps with the first team in 11-on-11 drills, where he validated his candidacy as a potential Week 1 starter.
Now it’s Bradford’s turn. The veteran will start testing the knee and assuming more reps in the dangerous drills. It’s a chance for Bradford to build separation in his race against a rookie, a battle that will culminate in training camp.
Either way, Rosen has succeeded all early expectations. He’s changed his perception, defying critics who downgraded him as an affluent, loudmouth, distracted quarterback. But there was some truth in the opinion of former UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., who said Rosen would “set the world on fire” if he ever fully concentrated on football.
“Whatever activity it is, I want to be great at it,” Rosen said. “I want to be the best at it. And football in particular, I wanted to sort of put school to the side for a little bit and put everything into this just to see how good I could be. Because I’m really curious.”
So are Valley sports fans, a group that could be treated to one of the most riveting competitions in training camp history. After all, greatness rarely waits or sits on the sideline for too long.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.