Perspective on Kevin Kolb's latest injury

CANTON, Ohio -- The protection for quarterback Kevin Kolb was much better following the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener than during it Sunday night.

What it all means for the team's ongoing quarterback race hinges on how well Kolb responds to the chest injury he suffered only four dropbacks into a 17-10 defeat to the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt stood up for Kolb while downplaying backup John Skelton's efforts.

"I think it's a little bit unfair to Kevin because we weren't doing as good a job up front early in the game," Whisenhunt said. "Then we settled down and played a little bit better. But he'll get his opportunities when we go forward. That's why you don't, it's careful to make judgments on that first experience."

There's no sense in a head coach amplifying the negative with four preseason games left to play. But at some point soon, Kolb will need to stay on the field and produce. Toe, head and chest injuries have knocked him from games with Arizona. A thigh injury suffered in practice last week turned out to be a non-factor.

Whisenhunt described the latest injury, initially announced as a rib contusion, as a bruised chest muscle. He suggested Kolb might not miss much time.

"It's going to all depend on how sore he is," Whisenhunt said. "I don't anticipate it being a problem. Whenever you get one of those, it's hard to torque, so we'll see how he responds. There's a chance he'll practice this week."

Player safety is a legitimate concern, but some hard NFL truths remain. Players cannot earn their peers' respect from the sideline. They must prove they can play through injuries. Quarterbacks especially must do this if they're going to win over a locker room. We saw Tarvaris Jackson do that last season in Seattle by playing through a torn pectoral muscle. We saw Sam Bradford do that for the St. Louis Rams, limping through a Monday night game at Seattle despite a high-ankle sprain that easily could have sidelined him.

It's impossible to know whether Kolb could have played through the toe injury that sidelined him last season. It would be irresponsible to suggest Kolb should have returned more quickly from the concussion that kept him off the field for the final three games. There was obviously no sense in Kolb gutting it out in a meaningless preseason game Sunday night, of course.

We just know this: Kolb keeps getting hurt, and he hasn't fared well enough when healthy.

"He's done a good job [in camp practices]," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's done a really good job competing. He's accurate. His ball's on time and he's having fun. That is important. He is out here with the guys enjoying football. That is really what you want to see. We have a lot of training camp left to go and a lot more games in preseason. I know he'll continue to improve."

The Saints picked off Kolb's first pass. They knocked him from the game not long after that, the fourth consecutive preseason and/or regular season that an injury has knocked out Kolb.

Kolb completed one of his four attempts for four yards and the one interception. He wasn't on the field long enough for anyone to read much into his 0.0 NFL passer rating. Skelton completed four of six attempts for 32 yards. He was the quarterback during a 14-play, 90-yard drive to Alfonso Smith's 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Skelton completed four consecutive passes during the drive. Arizona ran for 60 of the 90 yards on the drive.

"[Skelton] did a nice job," Whisenhunt said. "He made a couple good throws, moved in the pocket. Like I said, I think the line settled down a little bit by the time John got in there. He had a little bit more time. But to his credit, I think he did a nice job."

The Cardinals will remain on the road, heading to Missouri for one practice with the Kansas City Chiefs, followed by a game against them Friday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Kolb's availability was a leading storyline for the Cardinals last season. That will be the case again this week.