Ken Whisenhunt: “we’re In A Heck Of A Lot Better Position At The Quarterback Position Than We Were A Year Ago”

Last offseason the Arizona Cardinals went out and made a bit of a blockbuster trade to try to land their quarterback of the future. The Cards traded a second round pick as well as a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for then 26-year-old Kevin Kolb. The thinking was Arizona would finally fill the Grand Canyon sized gap left by the retirement of Kurt Warner a few years ago. The early results were positive and fans saw glimpses of what Arizona’s front office did in just the very first game of the season. That feeling didn’t last long though, frustration built, and now the Cards have to do a little soul-searching this offseason. Kevin Kolb showed flashes, but he also ran into some of the issues he had in Philadelphia. Mainly he couldn’t stay on the football field. Kolb missed a number of games with both turf toe and a concussion and even though John Skelton played relatively well, he is still raw and developing.

The questions the Cardinals need to ask is whether they feel they can count on Kolb and whether they believe in him as much as they did last offseason.
Peyton Manning could be lurking and the desert seems like a possible landing spot for the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, if he gets released. The Cards went down that road once before with Kurt Warner and it brought a Super Bowl appearance. The young Cardinals defense is only going to get better, the Cards have the best receiver in the NFL, and they look to have a playoff caliber roster, with the exception of their offensive line and maybe quarterback. The position is improved from where it after Warner retired, but the potential to land Manning may be too difficult to pass up, even with the investment they have made in Kevin Kolb. One way or the other, the Cards are asking themselves similar questions to the ones they were asking last offseason.Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves joined KTAR in Phoenix with Doug and Wolf to talk about whether or not he is going to play overseas, what his mindset is when it comes to the season, on the team that he has around him in LA, and what he is doing this offseason to get better.

What impressed him about the way the team finished 2011:

“I’ve got to tell you the thing that really jumped off the page to me was one, how Ken and our coaching staff stuck to the things that they believed in, stuck to the things that they believed would work for our football team. There was not a panic from his office even though there were times when I would go down and be a little wobbly at the knees myself. Ken was always adamant about sticking with what has worked and things he has had success with. The other thing was the attitude, the desire, and the feeling from the players. We had players coming in at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning determined to make sure they were getting it right. It said a lot about our players and the steadfast approach that we took and I think in the end that was something that really jumped off the page to me.”

What the coaching staff and front office is focusing on right now:

“Right now we’re focused on preparing for free agency and taking a good look at what we need to do to get our own players resigned. We’re also preparing for the combine coming up next week so our meetings, for instance today, we have been in meetings talking about potential free agents around the league and lining those guys up relative to our team and having good fruitful discussions on how we can possibly upgrade ourselves. The last couple of days have been filled with a lot of meetings and discussions about free agency.”

“For us, for coaches, it’s really kind of a three stage development. One of the most important things you do as a staff, and we did this with the scouts, GM’s, with Rod, and our guys, is you evaluate your team. You go through and grade your team. You have a grading scale and obviously Larry Fitzgerald is at the top of it and other players are lower. Then we go through a process of going through every play and grading our players again. That takes months and then you have a great evaluation of where you are as a team. That has to happen before free agency and that takes up most of the morning. Then in the afternoon, the coaches are going through and either looking at pro free agents, grading them, breaking down tapes, writing reports on them, or what we’re just getting really started on is college football players. The combine is a big part of that. Rod and Steve Keim give us a list of players, there’s 600 or some players in the draft and coaches can’t look at all of them, so that’s what their side is doing is narrowing those guys down and getting the top players. They give them to the coaches and the coaches go through, look at them, and grade them. Then we all get together in April and read reports, grade players, and come to a consensus. There is no real down time because you’re always trying to improve, get better, and make your team better.”

On the quarterback:

 “Let me answer it this way: That is at all positions we try to maintain flexibility and the ability to look at any free agent on the market that we feel has the ability to improve our football team. That can happen through the offseason, it can happen in training camp, the regular season, and any time there is an opportunity we will take a good, hard look at it. We’ll be in position, there will be quite a few players out there once free agency starts that we will have an opportunity to take a look at and some of those are under contract now that teams will make a decision to release after the start of the new year and we will evaluate those players at that particular time. That’s our normal mode of operation and we will be in position to do that. As far as our quarterback position is concerned I’ll pass the baton over to coach and let him address that.”

“Well the easiest thing to say right now is that we are in a heck of a lot better position at the quarterback position than we were a year ago today. We’ve got two guys that we feel like can play. They’ve shown at times that they can do things, they’ve shown at times that they are knuckleheads and it’s our job to get the players there on our team to play better. That’s what we’re going to do and I feel excited about that. I feel better about our quarterbacks on our team right now than I did last year from the standpoint of John Skelton; he won a lot of games for us over the last half of the season. At this time last year he was a rookie who played four games and that was it. Of course Kevin Kolb, we saw a lot of good things from him. The second half of the Dallas game was very impressive and more of what we were getting and the first game against Carolina and then against Washington, he made some plays for us and I think both of these guys are going to get better with having an offseason and being able to work on some of the things we feel is going to make them better. So I’m excited about it.”

If there will be a competition at quarterback:

“I think there’s always competition at any position. I don’t think you can ever say that this guy is going to be the guy. We’re always opening it up to let other guys compete for spots and the best players are going to play. That’s the nature of this league, that’s the nature of this game, and that’s the way we go about business. What it all comes down to is how we give them the reps, how we go through the preparations and all that. That’s not going to be any different. We will split the reps up, guys will get their opportunities, and we’re going to make the decisions whether it’s Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, the quarterback situation, Beanie Wells, or any position on the team like that. Certainly you have your starters and guys you know are going to be the focus of the reps as you get toward the season but when you talk about the quarterback position that’s something that both guys are going to get opportunities because John certainly deserves it from the way that he played over the back half of the season and Kevin certainly deserves it from the reason that we went out, got him, and brought him in.”

Whether they plan to pick up the option on Kolb:

“I think that obviously there’s no reason to think at this particular point that we wouldn’t proceed with seeing the contract through but again things change as we go down the road and we will evaluate things. Right now like coach said we’re focused on getting these two guys ready to play. I’m excited about what they bring to the table and excited about the enthusiasm that both of them have. Both have a strong desire to be the guy and with that I think it’s going to create a lot of fun for us. It will be interesting to watch to see what happens but our focus is on getting these guys ready to go next season.”

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