Cards need better quarterback play to contend

Kevin Kolb (Getty)

You can break down Arizona's roster by position inside and out, but the success of this season will come down to the team's play at quarterback.

You can break down the Cardinals roster position by position. Rate individual performances from a year ago. Project how each player will do in 2012.

But how the team plays this season comes down to one major item: the quarterback.

If the Cardinals don't receive better quarterback play than a year ago, they won't contend for a playoff spot. It won't matter if the offensive line is better or if the defense continues to improve.

Unless the Cardinals get more out of the quarterback position, they will be relegated to finishing .500 at best.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff know that. That's why the organization pursued Peyton Manning in free agency. And it's why Whisenhunt made changes on his staff, replacing quarterbacks coach Chris Miller with John McNulty, the former receivers coach.

The hope is that Kevin Kolb, or John Skelton, will show great improvement after a full offseason of work with McNulty.

"When we started (this offseason), you realized how much they missed last year," McNulty said. "We're going from ground zero so to speak: each play, each protection, each situation."

Kolb was thrust into a difficult situation last season and floundered. Because of the lockout, the Cardinals traded for him in late July and his first practice was in training camp. The Cardinals' offense was dramatically different than the West Coast system Kolb ran in Philadelphia for four years, and nothing about the transition went smooth.

Kolb didn't play well when he was healthy, and he wasn't healthy that often. He missed nine games because of injuries.

The information overload, combined with foot and concussion injuries, made Kolb's first season in Arizona a disastrous one. The hope now is that he can benefit from immersing himself in the offense over an entire offseason.

"It's like a slow-soaking process right now," he said, "because we're installing four to five plays today, four to five tomorrow, rather than training camp, when you're getting 16 to 20 at a time."

Whisenhunt is handing the job back to Kolb. John Skelton has a legitimate shot to win it, Whisenhunt said, but that seems questionable. The Cardinals gave up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in 2012 for Kolb and have paid him $19 million. It's hard to believe they would keep him on the bench.

Skelton played well late in games last season and contributed to the team winning seven of its last nine. But he also struggled early in games and was a major reason the team had to come from behind to win so often over the last half of the season.

McNulty is concentrating on improving the fundamentals with both quarterbacks. Their footwork got sloppy last year, he said, because they were unsure of the offense.

Skelton often wouldn't reset his feet when moving beyond his initial option on a pass. Kolb would just start moving if the first guy was covered.

"If you get out of rhythm with your feet," said McNulty, "then the whole thing is broken down. You may end up moving, getting out of the way and making a play, but as far as what the play is supposed to be, it's been lost and you're playing catch-up. More times than not, bad things happen."

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