Time is now for Kolb to conquer injury curse and take over Cardinals' quarterback job

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Staying on the field has been a challenge for Kevin Kolb. (US Presswire)  
Staying on the field has been a challenge for Kevin Kolb. (US Presswire)  

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The last time the Arizona Cardinals were knee deep in a quarterback quandary they went to the Super Bowl. I don't see that happening again, but I wouldn't rule out a division championship if the Cards find a quarterback this summer they can trust ... and Kevin Kolb is the quarterback I have in mind. Kolb doesn't need to prove he can play. He did that in Philadelphia, which is why Arizona acquired him last summer and signed him to a megabuck contract.

Nope, he must prove he can stay on the field, avoiding the litany of injuries that keeps him out of the lineup and sidelined him for most of Tuesday's first intra-squad practice with the Kansas City Chiefs.

This time it's a bruised rib muscle and bruised diaphragm bothering Kolb, and neither is considered significant. What is noteworthy, however, is Kolb's resume, and it's littered with a multitude of injuries -- including a couple of concussions -- that keep him from starting more than a handful of games in succession.

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I don't know what the deal is -- whether it's just bad luck or that Kolb is brittle -- but at some point you must have a quarterback you can trust ... and that point is now for Kevin Kolb and the Cards.

"I feel the urgency," Kolb said after Tuesday's morning walk-through, "and I look forward to getting it done. Hopefully, if I can shake off a few of these injuries we'll be ready to roll."

I have no doubt that can happen ... only Kolb must not shake off a few of the injuries; he must shake off all of them.

For the moment, he's locked in a quarterback competition with backup John Skelton, only the Cards didn't pay Skelton to be their franchise quarterback. They paid Kolb, which means somebody believes in the guy. In fact, they believe in him so much that they pulled out of the Peyton Manning bidding to deliver a $7 million roster bonus to Kolb.

Now it's up to Kolb to prove that he's what the Cardinals think he is, and let the games begin. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is in no hurry to make a decision here, nor should he be. Kolb plays the most important position on the field, and, just as he did in 2008 when he chose Kurt Warner over Matt Leinart, Whisenhunt could play this one out to the end of preseason.

"You have to have enough information that you can make a decision," said Whisenhunt. "You don't want to base it off of six plays in a preseason game. You don't want to base it off a great afternoon practice at Flagstaff [site of the Cardinals' training camp]. You want to base it off of what you see over time. The guy who gets into the huddle, who commands the respect of the team and who consistently makes the plays when he has to make the plays ... that's the guy who gets it."

The smart money should be on Kolb except he must stay in the lineup. Granted, he didn't look all that good in the Hall of Fame game before leaving with an injury, but remember what Whisenhunt said: "You don't want to base it off of six plays in a preseason game," and Arizona won't. Look for the Cards to play this one out, hoping Kolb gives them what they're looking for -- which is not only someone who can win the job but someone who can keep it.

"You getting tired of these nagging injuries that won't leave you alone?" I asked Kolb.

"It gets like that at times," he said. "This last one frustrated me a little bit. I'm just ready to put all that behind me and go play -- and play 16 games and see what happens -- but you've got to roll with the punches.

"I'm not complaining about the situation I'm in at all. I have total faith in what's going to happen, and I think there are going to be a lot of great things that are going to happen for me in Arizona and a lot of great things are going to happen this year. You just have to get through the bad to get to the good."

I'd say the job was Kolb's to lose, but it's not ... not anymore. Though not as accurate or as experienced as Kolb, Skelton did something last year Kolb could not --- win. He was 5-2 as a starter and 6-2 if you include a defeat of San Francisco where he came off the bench after three plays to lead the Cards to a come-from-behind 21-19 victory.

Kolb should be improved with an offseason in an offense he had to absorb overnight last summer, and he understands he must be better in the pocket if the Cardinals are to succeed. But this isn't about the mental aspect of Kevin Kolb's game. This is about the physical.

"Mentally," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, "he's light years ahead of where he was last year. In terms of that, he doesn't have to worry about anything. He's not behind the eight ball like he was last year. Now all he has to do is go out there and do it physically."

Arizona's season could depend on it. With the return of Ryan Williams, the Cardinals could have a decent running game for the first time in years, and the defense that played so well down the stretch last year when Arizona won seven of its last nine starts could be dominant.

That leaves it up to Kevin Kolb ... or John Skelton ... or both.

"This is a quarterback's league," said Fitzgerald, "and I know that whoever wins that job is going to be capable. Both guys are good enough to go out there and help us get wins, but I think it'll be settling for the team not to have to answer week in and week out: 'Who's going to be your guy?' It'll be fun to figure out who that is and to follow his lead to the Promised Land."

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