Cardinals may have the next Kurt Warner; 10 things to watch for
Undrafted Max Hall has a chance to succeed the man he once rooted for
Chiefs running backs must help keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands
If Kevin Kolb plays well on Sunday, Andy Reid will have a tough decision to make
Sometime around 1 p.m. this afternoon, Phoenix time, two quarterbacks will meet at the Arizona Cardinals' training facility. Kurt Warner, doing color for the Saints-Cardinals game on Sunday in a delicious bit of TV gerrymandering, will stand and shake hands with the man he used to be. And Max Hall, probably, will blush a little bit.
"Max Hall is Kurt Warner 12 years ago,'' Warner told me Thursday night from Phoenix. "Nobody expected me to make it when I showed up in an NFL camp. When you're undrafted, the way we both were, the expectations are very low, of course. I will probably share something with him -- I was in the same boat as you 12, 13 years ago. Enjoy it! Just go out and play. When I first made [the Rams in 1998], I remember being scared I might get cut, and Dick Vermeil saying to me, 'There's something about you I like.' And they kept me. From talking to coach Wiz [Ken Whisenhunt], it sounds like it's the same thing with Max.''
It is. Hall was the most accurate of the four passers in training camp, and there was a maturity (partially from having served a Mormon mission) and a feeling that he belonged that the coaches saw from the first day. And it got reinforced in camp. I wrote this in Monday Morning Quarterback a month ago, but it's apropos after the Cards cut Matt Leinart last month and benched an ineffective Derek Anderson this week to give the BYU kid, who no one wanted in seven rounds of the draft last April, his shot:
Late in the first half of the final preseason game against Washington, Hall was driving the Cardinals. On one play, he missed an open receiver, the check-down receiver, in his progression. And on another play, Hall took a big hit trying to get a couple of extra yards, instead of going down and protecting himself. When he came over for the two-minute warning, Hall got an earful from coach Ken Whisenhunt.
"Look, you can't miss that checkdown!'' Whisenhunt yelled. "And you can't take a big hit like that! Think out there!''
Hall fired back at him: "OK, it happened! I screwed up! Fine! Let's move on!''
"You know who that reminds me of?'' Whisenhunt said to me over the phone.
"Kurt Warner,'' I said.
"Kurt Warner, that's right,'' he said.
And now Hall debuts against the Super Bowl champs, with a quarterback his own size (Drew Brees) on the other side of the field, in front of a hometown crowd (he's from the Phoenix suburb of Mesa), a few miles from the university he first attended (Arizona State) but had to transfer from because the coaches thought he wasn't good enough to play. For a struggling 2-2 team trying to find some way to stay in the NFC West race. And with the quarterback he's being given a chance to succeed judging him upstairs with a microphone in his hand. That, folks, is some pressure.
But the only way the 6-foot-1 Hall will have a chance, especially against the unpredictable blitzes that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will throw at him, is to forget all the peripheral stuff and concentrate on making some plays that Anderson hadn't been making. Hall knows that.
"I'm sure I'll be a little nervous,'' he said from his car last night. "But I'm just concerned about taking one play at a time and make that the best play we can make it. That's the only way I know how to succeed. I'm not the biggest guy, or the strongest guy, but I'm smart and I'm accurate.''
I always wonder how new guys like Hall, who walked into the locker room last May as the 73rd (or some such longshot number) guy on the roster, a camp quarterback, are accepted by the vets. These guys probably don't even know his story.
A local high-school star (and nephew of former Cowboys quarterback Danny White), Hall enrolled at Arizona State and never got on the field. Before transferring to Brigham Young, he served seven months of a scheduled 24-month Mormon mission, and was a more mature person when he walked onto the BYU campus. A three-year starter, Hall threw 94 touchdown passes and then watched as he was ignored in the draft. Size matters. Brees was a second-round pick. But Hall couldn't get the league to believe in him. Whisenhunt liked his accuracy and moxie and invited him to camp.
"Just give me a chance,'' Hall said to him when he signed. "That's all I ask.''
A chance -- you mean like starting the fifth game of the season?
Hall will duck into a huddle on Sunday with a guard who's been on Super Bowl winners (Alan Faneca) and a receiver (Larry Fitzgerald) who might be the best in football. He'll have strong-willed defensive vets like Darnell Dockett and Joey Porter to show, basically, that he's not overmatched. When I first got Hall on the phone last night, he said, "Call you right back. On the phone with Fitz.'' They were going over a few plays they knew would be in Sunday's game plan.
"He's one of the guys you've got to kick out of the building every night,'' Fitzgerald said. "I like how he takes command of the huddle. He's not afraid.''
But Hall knows he's got to prove himself to his team now. The feel-good story is over. Jonathan Vilma's going to be trying to take Hall's head off on Sunday. "You never envisioned this happening for Max so fast,'' Whisenhunt said Thursday. "But it's the right thing to do. I know it is. This team knows it is.''
This afternoon, Hall will do his first production meeting with a national TV crew. Starting quarterbacks always meet with the network crew in town to do the game. This week, it's play-by-play man Chris Rose and a color man named Warner. Things are coming fast and furious. But for a minute, Hall's going to savor the chance to meet the guy he rooted for as a Cardinals fan the last few years.
"A little ironic,'' said Whisenhunt. "For Kurt, maybe it'll be like looking himself in the mirror.''
Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, RB, Kansas City
This isn't the first time a team has approached a game against Peyton Manning with the game plan of playing keepaway. But when Kansas City, the only undefeated (3-0) team in pro football, walks into Indianapolis on Sunday, the plan will be just that. And to do that, Mr. Inside (Jones) and Mr. Outside (Charles) -- with some help from Mr. Changeup, Dexter McCluster -- will have to help the Chiefs win the time-of-possession game and keep Manning on the sidelines as much as possible. The stats say Kansas City has a chance. Charles and Jones are averaging 5.3 yards per carry (86 for 455 combined), while the Colts are surrendering a gaudy 5.0 yard per clip.
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