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Popular As The Backup

Posted Nov 1, 2011

With Kolb hobbling, Skelton hears pleas to have him play

Backup quarterback John Skelton went 2-2 as a starter in 2010.

At Burges High School in El Paso, Texas, John Skelton was pretty popular.

“I’d like to think so,” Skelton said with a smile.

He may not have been more popular than he is right now, however. He’s the backup quarterback on a team that’s struggling, living the NFL cliché. With starter Kevin Kolb limping around in a walking boot thanks to a turf toe, Skelton could actually go from fantasy choice of many fans to the field behind center against St. Louis.

Certainly it would be an opportunity for Skelton. Whether that’s good for the Cardinals is a question.

For all of Kolb’s struggles, he is only seven games into his Cardinals’ career. With the time, trade value (a second-round draft pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and cost (a giant contract extension worth about $20 million the first three years) invested in Kolb, a quarterback change would not – and should not – be considered.

If Kolb’s injury won’t let him play, however, Skelton must. Are there worms that could rise from that particular can? The Cardinals play the Rams this week, a team that did just beat the Saints but also a team decimated by injuries in the secondary and certainly a defense that seems easier to handle than either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

Of course, no one knows what would happen if Skelton played during his self-titled “unconventional journey.”

Skelton understands why people are clamoring to see him. He doesn’t get recognized while pumping gas any more often than before, but through Twitter and other types of media, the drumbeat has intensified and “it’s hard to ignore.” He knows his name is being called. He praised Kolb, but to act like he wouldn’t look forward to playing would be disingenuous.

“No one makes it to the NFL with the ambition of being a backup,” Skelton said. “Whether you play because you are the starter or because someone gets hurt, it’s an opportunity. I am just going to try to make the most of it, and if I play, I’m going to try and win a ballgame.”

Skelton is unproven, and that’s one of the reasons so many want to see him try now. But whatever issues Kolb has had, Skelton too has had his bumps. He went 2-2 as a rookie starter last season, but in both victories he completed fewer than 45 percent of his attempts. A blowout win over Denver was fueled by the defense and the kicking game; the one-point Christmas win over Dallas came only after the Cardinals got two interception returns for touchdowns to build a lead.

That isn’t to take away from Skelton’s ability – he did lead the game-winning field-goal drive against the Cowboys – but he was raw enough last year that coaches told him originally they did not want to play him as a rookie. Like Kolb, he didn’t get an offseason to make a jump forward, either.

Kolb isn’t sure what’s going to happen this week. Kolb waved away the idea of sitting just for the sake of rest, but during his weekly interview on XTRA 910, the quarterback said he wasn’t sure if he would practice Wednesday and reiterated he would take his situation day-to-day.

Skelton has tried to do the same. He knew a new QB was coming in before camp and adapted to that. He thought he was having a pretty good training camp before wrenching his ankle, setting him back enough that Rich Bartel was the backup the first five games.

But he’s been elevated, both on the depth chart and now, in the minds of many fans. Whether it’s better than life as a Mustang back at Burges is questionable, but he’s popular nonetheless.

“Any team that struggles, (fans) are going to call for a new quarterback and really, any changes to be made,” Skelton said. “I think Kevin has been doing a good job. We’re just in a tough situation.”

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