Arizona QB candidates to get longest audition yet

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By Natalie Rivers By Natalie Rivers

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) Maybe the cloudy Arizona Cardinals quarterback competition between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb will clear up a bit by week's end.

The two will get their most substantial on-field audition yet when the Cardinals are home against the Oakland Raiders on Friday night. (Arizona and Oakland are tied for No. 23 in the AP Pro32.)

Coach Ken Whisenhunt, unhappy with the performance of his first-team offense and defense in the first two preseason games, said his starters will see extensive time against the Raiders in Arizona's first preseason home game. Kolb will start, but Skelton will get significant time with the first unit, too.

Neither quarterback has exactly lit it up thus far.

Skelton has better stats, completing 7 of 12 for 67 yards. Kolb is 2 of 9 for 25 yards. Each has thrown an interception and neither has thrown for a touchdown.

Not that everything has been the quarterbacks' fault. The pass protection has been inconsistent and receivers have dropped passes at times or run the wrong route.

"It's everybody's problem," guard Daryn Colledge said. "The receivers have got to run better routes, the offensive line's got to block better, the running backs got to block better. It's not just on the quarterbacks. It's a competition that everybody wants to see come to an end."

With the major investment the Cardinals made in acquiring him from Philadelphia, then signing him to a big contract, Kolb knows there is pressure for him to succeed, but he has done nothing obvious to distance himself from Skelton, a third-year pro who was a fifth-round draft pick out of Fordham.

In fact, there was an ESPN report quoting an unnamed person inside the Cardinals organization as saying Skelton is leading the competition and the coaches are disappointed in Kolb. Asked about that report, Whisenhunt sidestepped the issue.

"I haven't really gotten in to thinking about favorites or longshots or anything like that," he said. "We're trying to get the best player that gives us the best chance to win. I've said all along it's a process. I think everybody wants an instant evaluation or wants to say that but we don't think in those terms."

Skelton was having nothing of the "favorite" discussion, other than to laugh and say no when a reporter jokingly asked if he was the inside source of the report.

"I'm not going to answer a question about it or anything," he said.

Skelton also disputed the perception that this game may weigh more on who wins the competition than other things.

"I don't think that you could say that this is a bigger game," Skelton said. "I don't think that anyone's pressing or anything to that effect. It is an important game in the fact that we haven't done well in the last two and we need to kind of show something here, and that's an offense as a whole. So in that sense I would say that it's probably just as important."

Skelton believes that Whisenhunt's decision will be based on what he's observed over the long term, in practices, meetings and preseason games.

"That's what coach Whisenhunt has come out and said. One game is not going to make or break someone. This game, I don't think Kevin or I are approaching it any differently from the competition standpoint," Skelton said.

At least in this game, quarterbacks should have a few series to get into some kind of a rhythm. But Skelton said that shouldn't make any difference, either.

"I actually think that's kind of a cop-out kind of answer," he said. "Whether you're there for a series or what have you, you've got to make the most of that opportunity. You've got to be able to show that you can move the offense, that you can operate the offense. Whatever length of plays that is, you've got to make the most of that opportunity."

Kolb said earlier in the week that he agrees with Whisenhunt's comment that he's going to leave the starters in until they get it right.

"None of us have any complaints about that because we have three games to get it right," Kolb said, "28 days and we're definitely not the yet."

Both players have obvious issues. Kolb has a tendency to give up on the pocket too soon and take off running, Skelton has missed some open receivers, usually when that rocket arm betrays him and sends the ball sailing.

Both have made mistakes reading the defense. But Skelton is unquestionably better at getting his team a win. Last year he was 5-2, 6-2 if you count the San Francisco game, when Kolb went down with a concussion on the first series. Kolb, who missed eight games with injuries, was 2-6 as a starter, not counting the San Francisco game, but his best performance by far in an overtime win over Dallas in the game before the concussion wiped out the rest of his season.

The Cardinals usually have four preseason games, but because they have an extra one having played in the Hall of Fame game, they have three remaining. Next week they are at Tennessee, and starters could see significant playing time in that one, too. That could mean Whisenhunt would make his decision the week of the final preseason game against Denver, a contest that usually features very little of the starters and a lot of players scrambling to make the roster.

"We're right there," Skelton said, insisting the offense isn't that far off from succeeding. "I don't think anyone is hitting the panic button or grasping for straws right now. As soon as we put it all together, as soon as we get all 11 guys on the same page, we're going to be fine."