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Leinart has tough sell to change perceptions about his game

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David Stluka / Associated Press
Matt Leinart will have to be a self-starter to improve with limited reps behind starter Matt Schaub in Houston.


Matt Leinart's NFL options looked bleak after being cut this weekend by the Arizona Cardinals, but the Houston Texans stepped forward and signed the deposed Cardinals quarterback to a one-year deal, perhaps saving his career, even if momentarily. Leinart is going to a situation that will show he either wasn't in an ideal system for his skill set, or that he simply isn't an NFL starter.

Though there is a good chance Leinart will never see game time behind highly-productive starter Matt Schaub, he will be learning a system that could help him overcome his shortcomings -- or further expose them (that is, if he doesn't end up running scout team behind Dan Orlovsky).

The Texans run a timing-based system where the quarterback has to quickly get the ball out of his hands -- something Leinart didn't go a good job of in Arizona. Houston's passing game also isn't effective if the quarterback isn't accurate, another issue for Leinart with the Cardinals.

A defensive coach I spoke with recently gave me this scouting report on Leinart:

» Has arm strength to make almost all of the throws, but he throws "soft" passes, which sometimes hang and are easy to deflect or intercept.

» Accuracy is an issue.

» Anticipation of when to throw the ball is problematic. He is like many quarterbacks who come out of college having played in a system with receivers who typically got so wide open there is no urgency to throw the ball at a certain time or at certain points of a route. In the NFL, breaks out of routes and shifts in coverages have to be anticipated because of the make-up speed of defensive backs.

» Has a tendency to pat the ball before his release, a trigger that opposing defensive coaches and players pick up on quickly.

Some of these issues can be fixed, and there's little doubt Texans quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp will put in the time to help. But how much time? Houston's coaches need to prepare for real games, not teach a backup quarterback the system. So Leinart is going to have to be self-motivated to improve.

But no matter how much he learns, he might not be able to put anything on film with the Texans, now that the preseason is complete. That means perceptions of Leinart won't likely change for potential suitors next year.

Side notes to Leinart saga

» It shouldn't be surprising that Leinart's former USC coach, Pete Carroll, didn't try too hard to sign him in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck is the starter and the team invested a lot to acquire and groom Charlie Whitehurst, so Leinart would have been no better than a scout-team QB with the Seahawks. He wouldn't want that and Carroll might not want that for him also.

The silence from Kansas City and coach Todd Haley -- Leinart's former offensive coordinator in Arizona -- is more telling. If Haley thought Leinart would be effective in his system, a system he brought from Arizona, don't you think he'd be leaning on general manager Scott Pioli to bring him in behind Matt Cassel instead of relying on Brodie Croyle as the No. 2?

» What was discussed more by some coaches and agents that I spoke with over the weekend wasn't why Leinart didn't succeed, but rather why Arizona didn't make a move this offseason to either deal Leinart or acquire someone other than Derek Anderson to compete for the starting job. OK, they made a play for Whitehurst, who ended up in Seattle, but when Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger and Sage Rosenfels were made available, the Cardinals held tight.

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The Cardinals knew who and what Leinart was and they knew the locker room dynamic well before Kurt Warner ever retired, however, they banked on Leinart maturing, improving, and his teammates finally buying into him. There wasn't a lot of second-guessing at the time because Leinart's collegiate reputation and flashes as a pro bought him a ton of faith. Yet, did you hear any of Leinart's teammates coming to his defense this offseason the same way a heap of Eagles backed Kevin Kolb, who stepped in for McNabb in Philly?

» If Anderson doesn't work out -- he's a gamer, but he turns the ball over (46 career touchdowns, 45 interceptions) -- then what happens? Do the Cardinals turn things over to undrafted rookie Max Hall (he's backed up by rookie John Skelton, the team's fifth-round pick out of Fordham) and go with a semi-rebuilding phase while Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Steve Breaston and Adrian Wilson are in their primes?

There are teams that have started rookie quarterbacks of late and had success, so such a turn of events could work out. Then again, those teams - the Ravens, Falcons and Jets -- weren't two-time defending division champs and two seasons removed from almost winning a Super Bowl.

Along those same lines

Besides seeing how things play out in Arizona, I'm also interested in the quarterback situation in Carolina. Like the Cardinals, the Panthers plan to start a relatively unproven commodity in Matt Moore and back him up with rookies Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Like Arizona, Carolina isn't in rebuilding mode.

Even though coach John Fox is in the final year of his contract (ownership hasn't broached extending him), the Panthers are built to compete now. If things don't go well early, will the loyal Fox try to ride things out with Moore like he did with former starter Jake Delhomme during difficult times, or will he go to Clausen and possibly prep the young QB for his successor?

Gibbs' good-bye

Offensive line coach Alex Gibbs' abrupt departure from Seattle on Saturday was a big-time surprise, in terms of timing. The high-strung, zone-blocking coaching guru took things down to the cusp of the regular season to walk, with burnout being cited as the cause. I don't doubt that Gibbs flamed out, as hard as he gets after it, but I'm still a little perplexed why he waited until now.

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Gibbs, 69, has walked away from gigs in Denver, Atlanta and Houston, claiming he was going to retire and that he simply couldn't give everything he had to the game anymore. But he typically gave his team a heads-up and waited until the offseason to make his move.

I covered the media-evasive Gibbs during the Jim Mora-era (2004-'06) when he was the offensive line/assistant head coach with the Falcons and I worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After the 2004 season, Gibbs told Mora he was going to retire, citing burnout. Mora had plenty of time to change his staff since it was still winter, but Mora coaxed Gibbs back in a "consultant" role, in which Gibbs would break down game film and help with the installation of the game plan, then disappear until the following week. Jeff Jagodzinski was promoted to O-line coach, but Gibbs still ran the show.

Gibbs retired after the 2006 season and joined Gary Kubiak's staff in Houston in 2008. After two seasons with the Texans, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hired him this offseason to help refine the zone-blocking principles up front. Pat Ruel was immediately hired to replace Gibbs, but the change at this point -- even if it's as minimal as getting used to a new voice and different style -- probably will affect Seattle's offensive line.

Meanwhile, if this is it for Gibbs, he's someone who gave the game an awful lot. Maybe he gave too much of himself, which is why he couldn't see the season through.

AFC North back and forth

Cincinnati's acquisition of safety Reggie Nelson from Jacksonville was met with Baltimore's free-agent signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Monday. Though the moves probably didn't have anything to do with one another, they could eventually have everything to do with one another.

Nelson, who regressed with the Jaguars after a promising rookie season, could regain some traction under Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who is turning out to be the Benny Hinn of wayward football souls. If Nelson gets back to form, he could end up going against Houshmandzadeh, whose presence with the Ravens makes that offense even more dangerous.

The AFC North favorites meet in Week 2 in what could be the game of the week.

Dansby: The Anti-Haynesworth

Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby's leadership and energy have prompted some of his Dolphins teammates to say his addition might be the most important one Miami made this offseason. That's including the trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and hiring defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Miami signed the former Arizona standout to a five-year, $43 million deal with $22 million guaranteed.

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