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Copious thoughts from the dark corners of Canton: Quarterback competition primer

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?