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Decision to go with Skelton a gutsy one for Arizona Cardinals coach Whisenhunt

Ken Whisenhunt’s decision to name John Skelton the starting quarterback was not as surprising as it is gutsy.

Going into training camp most assumed the starting gig was Kevin Kolb’s to lose.

He lost it.

The move, which was made official Friday in a press conference at the team’s Tempe training facility, is just another sign that the trade last summer to acquire the former Eagle is a bust.

Not every coach would be willing to admit that after just one season.

“Looking at a lot of different factors, and I’m not going to get into the specifics of everything that was involved, but it’s fair to say that at this point going forward we feel like the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win right now is John Skelton,” Whisenhunt said.

He’s probably right.

For all his faults, Skelton has shown marked improvement this preseason. He’s been more accurate and decisive, and his decision-making has not been especially poor.

But still, he hadn’t significantly outplayed Kolb, and many (myself included) felt going with Kolb against Seattle was the safe choice.

After all, it’s much easier to part with Kolb after “giving him a chance” to succeed. If he failed, at least you know. It’s the mistake the coach made two years ago with Matt Leinart, and one he’s risking repeating again now.

But that doesn’t matter, and it’s a sign that not only is Whisenhunt serious when he says winning is the only thing that matters, but also that the sixth-year coach still has a substantial amount of clout within the organization.

Ignoring the fact that Skelton is not a former league MVP who is coming off a season in which he threw 27 touchdown passes, Friday’s decision is not unlike the one Whisenhunt made in 2008 when he chose Warner to lead the team. That was not an easy call for the coach, and neither was this one.

“You have to make those decisions,” Whisenhunt said. “You go with the player that you feel like gives you the best chance to win.

“We put a lot of time and effort into making that decision and we think it’s the right decision for us.”

That will prove to be the case only if the 24-year-old Skelton continues to progress.

Skelton has completed just 211-of-401 passes for 2,575 yards in his career, with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Those numbers do a lot to negate any optimism over his 8-5 record as a starter, and he knows this is his chance to really step up and become a legitimate NFL quarterback.

“I have experience now; I don’t think I can use that as a crutch anymore, saying that I don’t have experience,” the quarterback said.

And now he has the starting job, along with the hopes of every Cardinals fan around. Whether you were pulling for Skelton or Kolb, the focus can now shift from wondering who the quarterback will be to thinking of how the team can beat Seattle, their Week 1 opponent.

Skelton said it’s nice to have the weight of all the speculation off his shoulders, though he acknowledged there’s an entirely different set of pressure now that he’s the starter.

“I’m still working, I’m still competing, I’m still trying to get better day in and day out,” he said. “To be honest, if I didn’t have to answer questions all the time from people I probably wouldn’t even second guess it or even think about it.

“But at the same time it’s finally good to have this kind of publicly said that I’m going to be the starter.”

What would have been a shock as recently as a couple months ago is not so much of one anymore.

And now it’s up to Skelton to make his coach’s decision look like the right one.