Before a Thursday night game between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles last season, I spent some time on the field talking to Texans quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and third-string quarterback Matt Leinart, the former first-round draft pick whom the Arizona Cardinals had released in favor of Derek Anderson and Max Hall.
Leinart couldn't have been more engaging and told me he was "hungry to get another chance." He said he just hoped he'd get one. Leinart recently told the Daily Trojan, the student newspaper at USC, "I am not going to give up."
There is no reason he should. Leinart is young and has the physical tools. The next step for him is to change perceptions. He has ventured into David Carr/Joey Harrington territory as a young, former-supposed franchise quarterback now looked upon as a backup.
Draft Do-Overs: 2006
Leinart has earned that perception. If you can't beat out Anderson, that's what you get.
Leinart will be a free agent and could end up back with the Texans. But I doubt that. He'll probably try to latch on with a team with a dicey quarterback situation, but one with a newer coach who has some years to establish himself. That could be Minnesota, Tennessee, Seattle, or San Francisco -- if those teams would take him. Leinart's former college coach, Pete Carroll, has helped resurrect the career of another USC flop, wide receiver Mike Williams, who had 65 catches for 751 yards and two touchdowns for the Seahawks last season.
There's also Philadelphia, which also has a history of procuring and developing quarterbacks, and will look for a backup if Kevin Kolb is traded.
The first thing for Leinart to fix is his persona. He is viewed as numbingly laid back, which coaches have told me screams a lack of leadership to his teammates. That's fixable. I also had a defensive coach give me a scouting report on Leinart last season, and the most damning claim was that he was easy to intercept because of his lack of anticipation.
That's an issue with some college quarterbacks from great teams. Because their receivers get so open, they don't have to throw based on timing and can hit receivers in space. The defensive coach said not being able to figure that out while on the pass-happy Cardinals damaged Leinart. Again, that's fixable.
Knapp told me he loved working with Leinart, who he said was really humbled by being cut after such high expectations. Leinart worked as hard as any quarterback on the team, despite doing little other than learning and practicing scout-team reps all week. Knapp said Leinart would stay late many nights and come in early, or on days off, to learn and practice Houston's offense -- a trait the coach found not only professional but admirable.
Leinart will get a chance, although not immediately as a starter. This is a time when there are open windows, though. A lot of teams need help, and if Leinart is sincere and hungry enough, he might be able to reinvent himself, work himself into a favorable situation and have some success.
Then again, if Leinart remains what he has been, perceptions might not change -- and neither will his plight.