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Questions remain at quarterback as Cardinals prepare for Commanders

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 3, 2023

To say the Cardinals are in an unusual quarterback situation as they begin preparations this week for the season opener in Washington would be a massive understatement.

And yes, it’s partly due to the knee injury that has Kyler Murray unable to play for at least the first four games of the season.

However, what can’t be ignored is this is the world they accepted when Joshua Dobbs was acquired on Aug. 24 and expected starter Colt McCoy was released four days later.

Of course, the Cardinals aren’t alone in having an inexperienced quarterback under center for next Sunday’s game.

The Commanders will open with Sam Howell, who has started one career game. At least he has been with the franchise since being selected in the fifth round of the 2022 draft. The start was in last year’s season finale when he completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 26-6 victory over the Cowboys.

Dobbs will have had four Cardinals practices under his belt for the season opener, while Clayton Tune was a fifth-round choice in April.

Dobbs, a fourth-round pick in 2017, has two career starts and has played in eight games with 85 regular-season attempts, so if the starting duo is Dobbs and Howell, they will have a combined three starts and 104 NFL pass attempts.

The only other game in Week 1 that doesn’t feature at least one first-round starting quarterback is the Raiders with second-round choice Jimmy Garoppolo against the Broncos with third-round pick Russell Wilson.

There are seven games where both starters were No. 1 choices and three that have a No. 1 and No. 3.

One of those seven is the Monday night game between Buffalo and the Jets. Aaron Rodgers (223 career starts) and Josh Allen (76) have combined for 299 and over 10,000 pass attempts (Rodgers 7,660 and Allen 2,566).

Below there is a look at the quarterback matchups for the opening of the NFL season.

Of course, quarterback isn’t the only area where the Cardinals have relatively new faces. The current roster features 11 rookies, 28 players that weren’t in Arizona last season and another 16 that arrived in 2021 or 2022.

The offensive line has 10 players on the roster including four that were claimed on waivers this past week. Another three O-line men are on the practice squad. That group will be instrumental in how successful the offense is, no matter who is the starting quarterback.

Dobbs appears unfazed by the challenge if he is No. 1 guy.

“Ironically, it’s happened twice for me in the last (eight) months,” he said. “It’s a unique process. The quickest thing you can do is get the logistics of the offense, understand the play calls, getting in and out of the huddle, learning teammates’ names and faces, communicate with them and then just be yourself.”

In 2022, he was signed by the Titans on Dec. 21 and started the final two games of the season with the first against Dallas only eight days after being signed.

Prior to that, he was traded by the Steelers to the Jaguars on Sept. 9, 2019, after starting quarterback Nick Foles suffered a broken clavicle in the season opener.

Reflecting recently on that, he said, “The biggest learning jump I was able to take was then. To get traded during the season, I was trying to process the emotions of all that, and then I’d been off the plane (in Jacksonville) all of about three minutes when it hit me like, ‘OK, you have five days to learn a new offense.’ That really showed me the most efficient way to learn a playbook — not just memorizing concepts, but actually to visualize them and walk through what you’re supposed to see.”

While Dobbs will have limited snaps to become comfortable with his receivers, much less know everyone’s name, he does have familiarity with the offense after being with the Browns last season where Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing was the quarterbacks coach and quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork was a coaching fellow working with the quarterbacks.

Dobbs said last week, “Obviously there’s similar schemes to Cleveland, knowing Drew and Izzy came from there, but every coach has their own nuances and spins that they like to put on the playbook as well as combining stuff that has been here and stuff that the players here have done well for a long time.

“So, even though it might be similar terminology, every playbook has its own, different spin to it. So, especially coming in and at the QB position, whenever you’re out there, you have to run the show, in and out of the huddle, at the line of scrimmage and communication with all the guys, and so that looks different when different guys are in there. So, just getting up to speed as quickly as possible, that’s what I’ve been diving into, not only on the field, but in my free time and I’m enjoying it.”

Realistically, it’s not as if Petzing simply brought the Browns playbook with him and installed it.

“There are a lot of similarities and crossover in the offense. I will say there’s a ton of differences as well,” Dobbs emphasized. “And so coming into the offense, learning that offense from him and now coming here and getting his own spin and variation is very unique, especially with the relationship that we had.

“It’s good to have that relationship, especially quarterback to play-caller. And understanding why he’s calling plays, why he’s installing plays, what variation he’s put on the offense and why he’s doing that. And so it makes it as smooth a transition as it can be.”

As for learning those names, Dobbs relayed an interaction he had with practice-squad center Hayden Howerton after his first practice with the team last Wednesday.

Dobbs said, “He came up to me working out (and said), ‘Hey, I’m Hayden. I know we worked together today. You took some snaps from me. My name’s Hayden.’ There’ll be some of that, but we’ll have fun with it.

“There’s a lot of turnover in the NFL in general. Not only this week but in the offseason, year to year, week to week even, so learning new teammates, meeting new people is a part of the game, a part of the profession and so I’m looking forward to it.”

After arriving in Arizona, Dobbs went to the team’s Tempe facility last Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. where Murray was already doing rehab work. They met and talked about the offense.

Dobbs said, “I know we’ll continue to build a rapport during my time here, and it’s all part of getting to know your teammates.”

The focus for the Cardinals appears to be on adding taller quarterbacks that have the ability to move. They saw that in the 6-foot-3 Tune, who is expected to be the 6-foot-3 Dobbs’ backup, throughout the offseason and training camp. The departed McCoy is 6-foot-1.

During the broadcast of the final preseason game against Minnesota, general manager Monti Ossenfort said, “Clayton has come in from the start and he’s got a very even-keel demeanor. Nothing has been too big for him. Everything that we’ve thrown at him he’s been able to handle. And he’s got a confidence about him that he’s carried into everything that he’s done.

“You guys have seen his ability to keep plays alive with his feet. You guys have seen his strong arm. With every young quarterback there’s still growing pains. There’s still things that he’s working through. But we’re very pleased with the way Clayton has handled himself since we’ve gotten him.”

Coach Jonathan Gannon said, “He’s got the mentality that you want in your trigger guy. Just looking at the different preseason games and the different tape, whether it be new staffs, or guys moving a certain way of how they want to evaluate guys, I think you saw a little more or less vanilla football out there.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to do.’ But then you watch the tape, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, they did do that.’ I thought Clayton saw a lot, honestly, like more than I would have expected, truthfully. Which was good for us, because he needs to see that. You’d rather him see it in preseason than Week 5.”

Even if Dobbs opens as the starter, it surely wouldn’t be shocking to see Tune at some point during games.

As for Dobbs, Gannon said, “He is a mobile guy that understands the system, but he is a mobile guy that can make throws and play in the pocket and play outside of the pocket. So, that’s what we’re looking for.”

The evaluation extended to the practice squad where 6-foot-4 Jeff Driskel, who missed significant practice time during the final few weeks of training camp because of a calf injury, was signed and not 6-foot-1 David Blough.

Gannon said Driskel has “really good command. He’s a big, strong guy who can push the ball down the field and he can run, wo we’re excited to have him back.”

It isn’t lost on anyone amid the rampant speculation about Murray’s future that he is 5-foot-10 and aside from the torn ACL has had seven other injuries in his first four seasons with four to his legs. How much do Gannon and Ossenfort really like Murray? Only they know. But that’s a discussion for another day.

While Gannon hasn’t announced the starter for Week 1 and might not publicly, when asked what he’s looking for in the starter, he said, “Command and production and their ability to run the huddle and make plays and operate in the way we want to operate that we have to operate to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Sounds like something any coach would say.

Gannon also said, “Monti and I aren’t going to bring anyone in here that the character doesn’t check out first. He’s extremely intelligent; character is through the roof.”

Dobbs shrugs off suggestions that he will be the starter knowing the work that has to be done.

“I would say for myself, every time I step in the building, I put starting expectations on myself,” he said. “I know the quarterback situation is going to play out however the coaches see fit, but for me, I come in ready to compete every single day. I push myself, but also approach the room in that way and so I’m excited to be a part of it and be a part of the team.

“If that is the case, I’ve put in a ton of work, I have a ton of sweat equity, I’m extremely prepared for the opportunity but that doesn’t mean I’m ever complacent. I’m using every hour, every minute of the day to always turn over the next stone to continue to prepare for that opportunity and whatever opportunities come after it.”

Dobbs added, “We all play professional football, we all spend a lot of time on our craft here in the complex and what I’ve learned the most is guys respect guys that are authentic and themselves. That’s who I am, that’s how I approach this opportunity at the podium or in front of my teammates or on the field. Just be able to go and lead them, help contribute to this team in whatever my role may be. I’m really excited about it.”

Tight end Zach Ertz, who might or might not play Sunday as he is returning from a torn ACL, said he could tell after one practice that Dobbs is a quick study. Ertz said there was “a lot” of communication between the two during practice and he added, “He’s a guy that understands football. He’s played a lot of football. He’s got a really good grasp of this offense. Obviously, he’s played it in the past. So, him coming into the huddle, calling the plays, calling the formations has been seamless so far and he throws a very catchable ball, which as a receiver you like.”

Ertz even interjected a comment about Dobbs’ aerospace engineering degree from Tennessee and the fact that he has done two externships at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Jacksonville.

“He’s smart, obviously,” Ertz said. “I think that’s well noted. He’s an astronaut or whatever he is.”

Asked in Cleveland last season about that, Petzing repeated the question by saying “how smart is Josh?” and then said, “Well, he’s far smarter than I am. He’s been great. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s a very bright guy who picks things up very quickly, and that translates to the field.

“Whether you’re the first guy in the room or the fourth guy in the room, you have to prepare to play every snap. That’s just the nature of this game and the nature of this business. Whoever’s in this room has to come in ready to roll.”

Then-Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett said of Dobbs last season, “I knew Josh a little bit before we got here. He’s a fascinating guy. So (smart). Every time he gets a question right (in a meeting), I go, ‘Of course you got it right. You’re a f-ing astronaut.’ That’s what I always tell him.”

From his experience, Dobbs once compared in an espn.com story what NASA technical people do in their jobs to football. While many have often claimed that football isn’t rocket science, Dobbs has a different perspective.

He said, “You’re in this big wide room with hundreds of monitors, and the people I was with in instrumentation take up the five monitors to the right. Everyone else is working on a completely different subsystem of this rocket, and everyone has to be on the P’s and Q’s for the rocket to launch, for them to have a go for launch. So to be able to sit in there and see, OK, this correlates so much to football. You have 53 people, but everyone’s different. But everyone still has to understand their position and how it affects the big picture for something as little as a play to go right and then for the team to win.

“To see the dynamics, and it kind of is good to see them not in your normal everyday world of football. You’re able to see them in a different light, so you’re able to kind of rewire your mind to be able to apply those concepts to the football world.”

While hardly anyone will be thinking of rocket science when Dobbs plays, Cardinals fans can only hope that his performance doesn’t lead them to mimic Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners,” intoning “Bang, Zoom,” and adding, “You’re going to the moon!”

NFL Week 1 starting quarterbacks

In parentheses are career regular-season starts, record, total pass attempts. Ranked in order of total attempts.

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets: Josh Allen 76, 52-24, 2566; Aaron Rodgers 223, 147-75-1, 7660. Total: 299, 199-99-1, 10226

Tennessee at New Orleans: Ryan Tannehill 143, 78-65, 4534; Derek Carr 142, 63-79, 4958. Total: 285, 141-144, 9492

L.A. Rams at Seattle: Matthew Stafford 191, 89-101-1, 7128; Geno Smith 51, 22-29, 1578. Total: 242, 111-130-1, 8706

Tampa Bay at Minnesota: Baker Mayfield 69, 31-38, 2259; Kirk Cousins 137, 72-63-2, 4866. Total: 206, 103-101-2, 7125

Las Vegas at Denver: Jimmy Garoppolo 57, 40-17, 1726; Russell Wilson 173, 108-64-1, 5218. Total: 230, 148-81-1, 6974

Detroit at Kansas City: Jared Goff 100, 54-45-1, 3502; Patrick Mahomes 80, 64-16, 2993. Total: 180, 118-61-1, 6495

Dallas at N.Y. Giants: Dak Prescott 97, 61-36, 3283; Daniel Jones 53, 21-31-1, 1740. Total: 150, 82-67-1, 5023

Cincinnati at Cleveland: Joe Burrow 42, 24-17-1, 1530; Deshaun Watson 59, 31-28, 1918. Total: 101, 55-45-1, 3448

Miami at L.A. Chargers: Tua Tagovailoa 34, 21-13, 1078; Justin Herbert 49, 25-24, 1966. Total: 83, 46-37, 3044

Philadelphia at New England: Jalen Hurts 34, 23-11, 1040; Mac Jones 31, 16-15, 963. Total: 65, 39-26, 2003

Houston at Baltimore: C.J. Stroud 0, 0-0, 0; Lamar Jackson 61, 45-16, 1655. Total: 61, 45-16, 1655

Jacksonville at Indianapolis: Trevor Lawrence 34, 12-22, 1186; Anthony Richardson 0, 0-0, 0. Total: 34, 12-22, 1186

Green Bay at Chicago: Jordan Love 1, 0-1, 83; Justin Fields 25, 5-20, 588. Total: 26, 5-21, 671

San Francisco at Pittsburgh: Brock Purdy 5, 5-0, 170; Kenny Pickett 12, 7-5, 389. Total: 17, 12-5, 559

Carolina at Atlanta: Bryce Young 0, 0-0, 0; Desmond Ridder 4, 2-2, 115. Total: 4, 2-2, 115

Arizona at Washington: Joshua Dobbs 2, 0-2, 85 or Clayton Tune 0, 0-0, 0; Sam Howell 1, 1-0, 19. Total: 3, 1-2, 104 or 1, 1-0, 19

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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