Pressure point: Cardinals

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Arizona Cardinals and why.

The 2012 season should be less challenging for Kevin Kolb than the one that came before it, but Kolb still qualifies for consideration on a varied list of NFC West players with tough roads ahead. Quarterback is a difficult enough position without the added burden of unrealistic expectations. The $12.4 million annual average Arizona paid to Kolb demanded immediate production, and at a high level. Kolb struggled, raising the stakes for 2012.

Kolb should benefit from the added preparation time this offseason affords players in general. Last year, Kolb remained property of the Philadelphia Eagles until late July. Rules prevented him from practicing with his new teammates until Aug. 4. This year, Kolb gets a full offseason to master the offense. The Cardinals also expect Kolb's fundamentals to improve now that the detail-oriented John McNulty has shifted over from receivers coach to handle quarterbacks.

Kolb faces at least three tough challenges.

First, he must hold off John Skelton for the starting job. Skelton faces no pressure as a 2010 fifth-round draft choice earning $490,000 in base salary. Skelton scored points with fans and the team for his role in a few fourth-quarter comeback victories last season. Skelton has also proved durable, which leads into the second challenge for Kolb: staying healthy. Concussions have knocked Kolb from the lineup in Philadelphia (2010) and Arizona (2011).

Finally, Kolb enters what is clearly a make-or-break year for him with no assurances that the Cardinals can protect him adequately. Arizona has questionable pass-protection credentials at both tackle spots. Kolb did not demonstrate much feel for the pocket last season. The Cardinals did add weaponry for Kolb by using a first-round pick for Michael Floyd. Floyd, unlike Kolb, will be given a couple of years to develop.