FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The battle for the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback job has entered its crucial final phase with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton splitting reps in the first workout of training camp on Wednesday.
By all accounts, it's a friendly rivalry with no animosity apparent between two players with low-key personalities. Coach Ken Whisenhunt insists it's an open competition and that neither player has an edge, despite the big investment the franchise has made in Kolb.
Whisenhunt, who knows that this subject will hover over training camp until he announces a winner, facetiously answered a question on the criteria for the job.
"Who took a shower that day, if they comb their hair or not, how closely shaved they were," he said.
Then he turned serious.
"It's not one or two things," the coach said. "I think that position involves so many different skill sets that have to operate at once that you're evaluating how they handle different components, if their progressions on their reads were sound."
Whisenhunt was displeased with a comment by analyst Willie McGinest, who said on the NFL Network that "talking to some of my buddies down there, it seems like they're (the players) gravitating toward Skelton a little bit more."
"I have no perception whatever that that's going on," Whisenhunt said. "From what I've seen, standing in the huddle, which I don't believe he was in the huddle, the team's responded to both guys and feel like both guys can be successful for them. So I don't put a whole lot of stock into that. If he's willing to say who it was or what they're talking about and what context, maybe it would be worthy of commenting."
Larry Fitzgerald said he couldn't fathom where such comments would have originated.
"I haven't heard that," he said. "I've heard some guys say we want the best guy to lead our team, I've heard that, but I haven't heard anybody leaning towards anybody. ... You never want to go off the record like that behind people's back. That's not becoming of a Cardinal."
Said guard Daryn Colledge, "I don't' know who Willie's guy is, but I speak for the offensive line, we have no favorites."
Fitzgerald said this quarterback competition is far different than when Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner were battling for the position in 2008. Whisenhunt waited until just before the season started to give the job to Warner, who went on to lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
"The dynamics were totally different," Fitzgerald said. "Matt was a Heisman Trophy winner, high draft pick, coming in with all the hoopla. Kurt was your Super Bowl MVP, two-time league MVP, did he still have enough in the tank to get it done. This one is kind of different because both the guys aren't household names, so to speak."
Kolb was 2-6 as a starter last year, missing much of the season with turf toe and later a concussion. Skelton was 6-2 in his absence, but much of the credit for that success goes to the team's vastly improved defense.
Skelton said he and Kolb spend a lot of time together, that they were among about a dozen Cardinals who played golf every Tuesday in the offseason.
"I guess it's hard for the outside community to fathom," Skelton said, "two guys getting along that are competing for the same job but we both push each other, we both want the best for each other. That's the way we are in life as well as in football."
The Cardinals thought they had acquired their franchise quarterback when they sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a draft pick to Philadelphia for Kolb, then signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract -- with $21 million guaranteed.
But with no offseason because of the lockout, Kolb struggled to absorb the Cardinals' offense then was sidelined with injury. Skelton replaced him, and though his passing often was erratic, he had a knack for bringing the team from behind in the fourth quarter.
Kolb said he's far more comfortable than he was a year ago.
"Everything about it is a lot more comfortable, the drive up, being here with my teammates is obviously the most important thing, and the playbook," Kolb said.
Kolb repeatedly has said he doesn't mind having to fight for his job.
"I've said it a thousand times, that's part of being in the NFL," he said. "Adam (Snyder) and I were talking on the way over here, he's never been to a season where he didn't have to compete for his own job. Every player in the NFL is used to it, I'm used to it and look forward to doing my best."
Skelton, a fifth-round draft pick out of Fordham entering his third NFL season, said he understands the constant scrutiny of "probably the most important position on the field."
"But Kevin and I are both taking it stride," he said. "We both know that we're going to push each other like always and may the best man win."