Super Bowl 43  

 

Leinart now patiently awaiting another shot at Cardinals' QB job

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Jim Rogash / Getty Images
Once hailed as the face of the Cardinals, backup QB Matt Leinart only saw the field during garbage time this season.


TAMPA, Fla. -- Matt Leinart has barely played for the Arizona Cardinals, but he's not suffering from a lack of exposure.

The quarterback drafted No. 10 overall in 2006 to be the face of the franchise now is just a face, as 37-year-old Kurt Warner is guiding the Cardinals to the Super Bowl while Leinart sits positioned as the No. 2 guy.

That hasn't diminished Leinart's appeal, as he was hounded by Access Hollywood and other entertainment journalists as well as sports reporters at Super Bowl XLIII Media Day on Tuesday. He might have been the most sought-after Cardinals player at the annual media Mardi Gras.

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Seriously.

The mash-up of sports and Hollywood is something Leinart is partly responsible for, living the glam life while starting at USC, where he won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships. After being drafted lower than expected, he did little to curtail his profile, showing up at some of L.A.'s more high-profile, red-carpet retreats with some of L.A.'s more high-profile, red-carpet celebs.

When it comes to football, though, Leinart's out of the spotlight. By this point of his career, he was supposed to be hailed like Troy Aikman, Ben Roethlisberger or even Matt Ryan. Instead, Leinart is doing Access Hollywood interviews while Warner is talking about beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the Cardinals franchise's first Super Bowl appearance.

"Being a quarterback in this league, you have a lot of responsibilities and you have to be accountable for everything," Leinart said. "That's not something you learn overnight. It's something you learn over the course of your career. There's stuff that I've learned. Everyone has to experience it. Going through life experiences helps shape your character and learn from things and grow as a football player."

By all accounts, Leinart has been dedicated to learning how to play the position the way the Cardinals want him to play it. He's just doing it behind Warner, who was named the starter in training camp after beating out Leinart in what was said to be a tough competition. The only action Leinart saw this season came in garbage time of three games. He completed 15 of 29 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

That has been about a half's work for Warner at different points this season.

That Leinart was given the chance in training camp to win back the starting job he lost last season when he suffered a broken collarbone in a Week 5 victory over the St. Louis Rams, was a pretty gracious gesture, seeing as though Warner finished out the final 11 games with decent command of the 8-8 team. The Cardinals were 3-2 with Leinart (60-of-112 passing, 642 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions) as the starter.

Warner, who threw for 3,417 yards, 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions after stepping in for Leinart, wasn't thrilled with having to fight to retain his job, but he accepted the competition.

"The compliment to this coaching staff is they've tried to make every decision on what they think is best for this football team," Warner said. "That is something, in this day and age, that is to be complimented. Not everybody goes about it that way. Sometimes dollars and sometimes draft picks will dictate things. Sometimes, it's even not knowing something about a young guy will dictate a decision, even though deep in their hearts and in the back of their minds, they think the other guys should be getting the job. That's one thing this coaching staff has done.

"They said, 'Who gives us the best chance to win?'"

Not being that guy was tough for Leinart to swallow, but he has dealt with it professionally, a sign that he could be maturing into the role. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Leinart's attitude and work ethic has been upstanding, which is appreciated on several fronts. Besides quelling any controversy, Leinart continues to push Warner and has entrusted confidence in the staff should he be called up to step in -- which at this point would be about as pressure-packed a situation as there is.

"I've learned a lot, about the quarterback position, sitting back and realizing this is what I need to do to become a better football player, whether I'm playing or not," Leinart said. "I feel like I've been ready every single play, every game this year. You have to prepare, study, put in the same amount of time. If your number's called, you don't want be the guy who's not prepared. That's something that I think about. I'm going to be prepared if my number's called."

At this point, though, the issue really isn't what's happened with Leinart, but what could happen.

Warner will be a free agent after the season. Contract demands from Warner and the team could determine whether he's back. Warner also has contemplated retirement, even this season, after teammate Anquan Boldin had his face fractured after being brutally jarred trying to catch a pass from Warner against the New York Jets. Warner might not be open to another training-camp competition.

It's a similar situation to what's happening in Tennessee, where veteran Kerry Collins stepped in for Vince Young -- drafted No. 3 overall in 2006 -- after Young got hurt and led the Titans to the best regular-season record in the NFL.

The unknown is exciting for Leinart, who said he'd love another shot to compete for the starting job.

"There's been a lot of talk about what he's going to do," Leinart said of Warner. "If I worried about that, I'd probably drive myself crazy. I'm not worried about what's going to happen. Those are bridges we'll cross when it becomes known. I truly believe that I'll be in Arizona. I have no other reason not to believe that. My time is coming shortly. I don't know what's going to happen, but I believe my time is coming shortly.

"I'll be working hard this offseason, preparing as if I'm going to be the starter."

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