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Cards' quarterback depth puts pressure on Chandler Harnish

With five quarterbacks on Arizona's roster, Chandler Harnish knows he needs to make every practice rep count. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If he didn’t already know it, Chandler Harnish was reassured that timing is everything back in March.

The day after he returned from a family trip to Cancun, Mexico, Harnish was meeting with a friend to start discussing his post-football career. His phone had been quiet for a while. Teams, for whatever reason, weren’t looking at Harnish, and with a new house in Chicago, the 26-year-old needed a way to pay his mortgage.

One option was for Harnish to continue selling vitamins for a company called Usana. It was a viable choice, one that he was experienced in, but not his first.

Then the phone rang. It was the Arizona Cardinals. A team wanted him. For the time being Harnish’s future in the vitamin industry was put on hold.

If Arizona had called a day earlier, Harnish’s phone would have been off while he enjoyed the finals days on the beach. Any calls would’ve gone straight to voice mail.

“It’s just kind of funny,” he told ESPN. “I’m a believer that the Lord works in mysterious ways. There’s no coincidences in life, and it’s been great to see all these little pieces fall into place.”

Harnish wasn’t far off.

There’s a reason he was signed in March, giving Arizona five quarterbacks on its roster. His experience running coach Bruce Arians’ offensive scheme in 2012 in Indianapolis was a valuable commodity to the Cardinals, especially after last season when injuries ravaged the quarterback’s room until they had to re-sign Ryan Lindley in November.

At first, Harnish didn’t look at his signing as the Cardinals adding someone familiar with the scheme because of last year. But it makes sense to the four-year veteran.

“I think it definitely helps my case that I do know it, and there’s always more to learn,” he said. “I’ll be the first one to say I don’t know everything but I think it does help.

“And just like any team out there, having a good backup and then having a good third-string is very, very important and the Cardinals saw that firsthand last year. I just kind of take it upon myself to make this quarterback room better and whoever rises as that third guy, he’s going to be better for it.”

Even though Harnish knows the offense and was able to play faster during OTAs and minicamp because of it, making the roster won’t be as easy as making a checkdown at the line of scrimmage. With five quarterbacks rotating during OTAs and minicamp, snaps were at a premium.

And with all five still on the roster heading into training camp, that won’t change.

With fewer opportunities to impress Arians and general manager Steve Keim, each of Harnish’s snaps becomes all the more important. Everything he does on the field has become more magnified.

“Whether you want to believe it or not, I’m sure that the personnel people here and the coaches here are watching everything we do, from warm-ups to your individual periods to routes,” Harnish said. “Just the way you hustle around and lead guys, everything you do is so important. In meeting rooms and weightlifting, that’s how you have to look at it, especially in a battle like this because I’m sure the magnifying glass is on.

“You just have to keep that in the back of your mind and continue to do what you do.”

Harnish has the knowledge but not the experience. He’s never played in a regular-season game during his first three seasons. And while he doesn’t fit the physical mold Arians typically prefers (he’s 6-foot-2, 222 pounds), Harnish has a fight that may be unmatched among the other four quarterbacks -- save for Carson Palmer.

But Palmer isn’t fighting for a roster spot, for a job to help pay his new mortgage. Every pass Harnish throws, every handoff he makes could be another month where he doesn’t have to worry about paying for his new home.

It’s a situation he relishes to a point. But there’s also the pressure of making sure everything he does is perfect.

“I think the cliché answer would be, ‘No, there’s no pressure,’” he said. “But there is. Of course there’s pressure but that’s the game of football. That’s the position I’m in and I’ve been in my whole career. I’ll always be competing for a job because I think that makes me better.

“I’m a true believer that competition breeds success.”