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CFL

NFL veteran grateful for opportunity with Alouettes

By Kirk Penton, Winnipeg Sun

Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during NFL action in Phoenix October 29, 2012. (REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during NFL action in Phoenix October 29, 2012. (REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

VERO BEACH, FLA. - 

It’s been a while since a quarterback with at least 17 NFL starts plied his trade in the CFL, which is what makes the John Skelton experiment in Montreal so intriguing.

The former Arizona Cardinals quarterback, who actually won eight of the 17 games he started south of the border between 2010 and 2012, is attending the Alouettes mini-camp this week at Historic Dodgertown after signing with the club in early February. So far he has looked exactly like someone who is experiencing the CFL game for the first time — a little shaky.

“There’s a lot to learn,” Skelton said Thursday after his second day on the expansive field. “Even though the changes and the difference are subtle, it’s enough to make you kind of sit back and think and look it all over.

“You’re so used to seeing guys stationary. Maybe one guy moves. Here everybody’s moving. Ultimately, they get to places where they would be in the NFL. They’re just on the run, so everything’s a little quicker.”

Skelton will have to learn the game as quickly if he hopes to make a mark, because it’s not like starting in the NFL guarantees success in the CFL. Far from it, in fact.

The Alouettes starting quarterback at last year’s mini-camp, Troy Smith, had eight NFL starts on his resume but got cut last season. John Beck, with seven NFL starts, is a backup with the B.C. Lions. Max Hall, who started three NFL contests, was released by the Bombers last June and was once ahead of Skelton on Arizona’s depth chart.

Remember Akili Smith? He also had 17 NFL starts to his credit when the Calgary Stampeders signed him in 2007, only to release him a few months later.

Skelton is happy to be playing football again after sitting out the 2014 calendar year. Playing in the CFL isn’t beneath the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder.

“It’s a chance to keep playing,” he said. “You wait as long as you can. You try to achieve your dream of making it to the NFL, which I did, and I’m happy for it. Right now my head’s down. I’m working for the CFL. I’m learning as much as I can and just try to be the best CFL quarterback I can be moving forward.”

The book on Skelton’s time in Arizona is he started games way too soon after a spectacular career with the Fordham Rams. He started four games in his rookie year for the Cards, seven in his second season and six more in his third, but it was only because of injuries to Derek Anderson and Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals released him two years ago this month, and he had failed tryouts with Cincinnati, San Francisco and Tennessee before spending last year in the full-time role of father to his one-year-old son, Jonah.

“People ask me that all the time or tell me that or have sympathy for me, but you play the cards you’re dealt,” he said. “I got to start an NFL game as a rookie. That’s an awesome accomplishment. Did it end how I wanted? Probably not. I would’ve liked to still be playing, but I’m not bitter about it.

“You see guys that are younger than me that are playing. People ask me all the time, ‘It must eat you up that this guy’s still around.’ I’m like, you know? C’est la vie — now that I’m in Montreal,” he added with a smile.

“I told my parents I’m going to take it a year at a time. If I do well I’ll stay up here. If for whatever reason I don’t do well or I don’t like it, I can at least say I tried it. If I end up having a 10- or 12-year CFL career I’d be happy.”

Jonathan Crompton will enter training camp as Montreal’s No. 1 quarterback, but he’s been the team’s starter for only half a season. The other pivots are Tanner Marsh and former Hamilton Tiger-Cat Dan LeFevour, who’s recovering from ACL surgery.

In other words, you never know.

“Jonathan did well at the end of the year, the team did well and did a bit of a run there, and right now I’m playing catch-up,” Skelton said. “He has experience not only with the Alouettes but with the offence and with the CFL. So I’m learning as much as I can.”

ARM KEY TO SKELTON’S SUCCESS

If John Skelton is going to have CFL success, it will be because of his arm and not his feet.

The 27-year-old El Paso, Tex., native is a whopping 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, which doesn’t lend itself to much juking or jiving, and he feels his right wing can be a factor on the wide open CFL field.

“My arm strength kind of suits that,” he said. “If you’re throwing a five-yard out to the field, ultimately the ball’s travelling 40 yards through the air for a five-yard gain.

“I’m not the most mobile guy, and hopefully they don’t call plays that dictate that I’m going to run, but having a strong arm and having a wide-open field kind of benefit my game.”

Skelton is still getting used to the 65-yard wide gridiron that Historic Dodgertown has set up for the Alouettes and Eskimos, who will kick off their mini-camp here Sunday. Skelton has overthrown receivers a few times and got intercepted at least once Thursday.

“I’ve thrown a few go routes that have landed well inside of where they’re supposed to be or well outside,” he said.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/PentonKirk


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