NFL: Leinart trying to keep backup job
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. ó A year ago in training camp, Matt Leinart was trying, and ultimately failing, to keep the Arizona starting quarterback job.
Now he’s in a fight to remain No. 2.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt assured Brian St. Pierre that he’d get a shot at the backup job to Kurt Warner, and he hasn’t backed off that pledge in the first week of camp.
“I think they’re just pushing me, as they’ve been doing for a long time now,” Leinart said in an interview on Tuesday. “I’ve been through a lot the last couple of years and seen a lot of different situations and stuff, so what’s another one for the books?”
Leinart says he’s confident in his abilities ó and he laughs off suggestions that this is another sign that his NFL career is a bust.
“For me, it’s just nonsense,” he said. “I’ve learned you don’t pay attention to that stuff. Guys are going to try to create controversy or drama and all that kind of stuff. One little article is not going to put me down. I’ve been through a lot more than that.”
Whisenhunt brushed aside the situation as a non-story.
“To be talking about a competition at the second-team quarterback to me just means there’s not a whole lot else going on,” he said, “because nobody talks about the battles for the second-team running back or the second-team linebacker and there’s no difference in my eyes.”
Except when the name is Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy and directed USC to two national championships before coming to the Cardinals. A year ago, Leinart and Warner had a tough fight for the job before the veteran was named the starter just after the last preseason game.
What followed was a Pro Bowl season for Warner and a spectacular run to the Super Bowl, with Leinart watching from the sidelines. The young quarterback never complained, and he isn’t complaining now with St. Pierre in the picture.
“It doesn’t bother me at all because I know what I need to do just to continue to have a chance to play and that’s all I’m really worried about,” he said. “I welcome competition, as everyone else should, because it makes you better, I think.”
St. Pierre, undrafted out of Boston College in 2003, has a long relationship with Whisenhunt going back to their days with the Pittsburgh Steelers. St. Pierre became a free agent after last season and was lured by Kansas City after Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley became head coach of the Chiefs.
Whisenhunt didn’t want to let St. Pierre get away.
“I think that one thing that he wanted to know is he would have a chance to compete,” Whisenhunt said, “and I think we’ve shown that, whether it’s the quarterback position or any other position, we believe in competition. So I feel very good about how he and Matt have both competed.”
St. Pierre said it’s the first chance he’s been given in his pro career to compete for the No. 2 job.
“Hopefully it’s an open competition,” he said. “I understand how people perceive it with Matt being the No. 10 pick a couple of years ago. I have a lot probably going against me, but all I want is an honest chance.”
The coaches have been impressed with the growing maturity of Leinart, who at 26 and entering his fourth NFL season seems to have escaped his party-boy image.
“This game forces you to grow up a lot, no matter what position or what you go through,” Leinart said. “You become a man, you become a professional, you learn to act like a professional football player.”
He also points to his 3-year-old son Cole.
“Becoming a father really made a big difference in my life in the best way possible, as it probably does most parents,” he said.
Leinart says he’s more comfortable with the offense than he’s ever been. He’s making the right reads, and the game is slowing down for him, he said.
Since Leinart went down with a broken collarbone in Game 5 of the 2007 season, Warner has made 31 straight starts. Leinart played in just four games last season and was on the sidelines throughout the playoffs.
Last season in New England, longtime backup quarterback Matt Cassel was forced into immediate action when Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the Patriots’ opening game.
He led the Patriots to an 11-5 mark and turned that into a lucrative deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“You just have to always be ready. You look at Matt Cassel’s situation,” Leinart said. “I realize that I’m one play away but you’ve just got to keep preparing and keep studying and keep learning as much as you can because when that opportunity comes, I want to play at a high level like Kurt plays at.”
Leinart prides himself on his patience but says he is getting anxious.
“I’m starting to get on edge a little bit,” he said. “I just want to get out there. I feel I haven’t played in a while, which is true, but like I said, I’ll be ready to go.”
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