FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The tall and short of it is that the fight between two rookies for Arizona's No. 3 quarterback job goes on, despite John Skelton's smashing debut.
The tall would be the 6-foot-6 Skelton, a raw talent with a rocket arm from Fordham who was Arizona's fifth-round draft pick. The short, relatively at least, is savvy, 6-foot-1 Max Hall, who went undrafted despite throwing for 11,382 yards and 80 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter at BYU.
Skelton rallied the Cardinals with two late fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the game-winning 15-yard TD pass to Jason Wright with 1:53 to go, in a 19-16 victory over Houston on Saturday night. Hall didn't take a snap in the game.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt says that he doesn't expect to make a decision on a third-stringer until after the final preseason game.
"I think it's going to be something that plays out over the next three weeks," he said on Tuesday. "Max will hopefully get his shot this week to see what he can do. We'd like to play John as well just to see how he reacts to having played well the first game. But I can't say for sure how it's going to all play out."
The Cardinals play at Tennessee next Monday night.
Skelton may look like a prototype NFL quarterback, but there are plenty of success stories for smaller players at the position.
Hall, who grew up in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa and transferred to BYU from Arizona State, just appreciates the chance.
"They've been really fair and given me a lot of reps, especially for an undrafted free agent, fourth quarterback coming in," he said. "They've given me a lot of good reps, a lot of looks. The coaches have treated me really well. I get along great with all the players. So I've had a great experience so far. It's been a really fun deal to be a part of this."
Skelton, from El Paso, Texas, is the first Fordham player to be drafted since 1968. Coming from an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) school, he has had some problems with the complexities of the Cardinals playbook.
"I think the first week of training camp I felt pretty comfortable because a lot of those plays we did during OTAs and minicamp so it was already the second time I'd seen them," he said. "But once we entered the second week of training camp, that's when we started putting in new plays again, that's when I felt like I was spinning. ... I would say maybe Tuesday through the Friday before the game I was a little frustrated, my head was spinning a little."
Whisenhunt stripped down the offense for the game, giving Skelton a better handle on the situation when he entered the game in relief of backup Derek Anderson in the fourth quarter, with Houston up 16-6.
Skelton's first play was a 20-yard completion to Stephen Williams, igniting a 73-yard touchdown drive that cut it to 16-12. On Arizona's next possession, Skelton displayed that powerful arm with a 36-yarder down the sideline to Max Komar. On fourth-and-5, Skelton kept the drive alive with a 10-yard completion to Andre Roberts to set up Wright's TD catch.
The big Texan completed 5 of 6 for 84 yards.
Regardless of who was playing on defense, the performance was a confidence booster all around.
"It definitely shows to myself as well as the coaching staff and other players that I belong, that I at least have some idea of what I'm doing out there," Skelton said. "It kind of eases the rest of training camp and the rest of preseason."
Up until the game, Hall probably had the edge on Skelton in training camp, particularly in his grasp of the offense. After all, he came from one of the most proficient passing offenses in college football.
"It's tough but I've studied hard and I think I've got it down," Hall said.
Skelton and Hall have been told the Cardinals want them both to be on the team.
"They've told me if I keep doing well they're going to want to keep me," Hall said, "so I've just got to worry about me and hope that's the case and make them have to keep me."