Leinart practices with Texans, calls Arizona end 'unfortunate'

HOUSTON -- Matt Leinart walked into the Texans' locker room Wednesday with stubble on his face and a new playbook in his hand.

Released Saturday by the Arizona Cardinals, Leinart practiced with the Texans for the first time since agreeing to a one-year deal with the team Monday.

The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner will be the third-string quarterback when the Texans open the season Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. It's a humbling fall from the high expectations that Leinart brought to the NFL after three spectacular seasons at USC.

Leinart calls his one guaranteed season in Houston a "new chapter," one he hopes will revive his NFL career.

"Obviously, the first four years, they didn't go the way you would hope and the way I hoped," he said. "I learned a lot as a quarterback and as a person. I had a chance to learn from Kurt Warner, who is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play. Now I get a chance to come here and learn from Matt (Schaub), who's become a pretty good quarterback in this league.

"It's unfortunate that it worked out like that over there (in Arizona). But like I said, this is a new chapter, this is a fresh start, a new offense. I'm just excited."

Leinart spent most of the day with quarterback coach Greg Knapp, receiving his first taste of the complex Houston offense that led the NFL in passing yards last season. Leinart threw an interception on a short route during practice, then threw a deeper pass that was on target but dropped.

Leinart said the Texans' offense is closer to what he learned in college than with the Cardinals. Some of Houston's offense is similar to what Arizona ran, but Leinart will have to memorize new terms for old plays.

"It's hard. It's not a position I've been in in awhile," he said. "There is just so much stuff, I'm trying to soak it in. In Arizona, we had a lot of the same concepts. The terminology and the words are just completely different. One word meant something there, and then the same word means something completely different here."

Leinart led USC to two national championships and a third title game. He was taken 10th overall in the 2006 draft by the Cardinals and appeared in 12 games as a rookie under coach Dennis Green, throwing for 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He broke his collarbone during the fifth game of the following season, Warner took over, and Leinart watched from the sideline over most of the next 2½ seasons.

Warner retired after the 2009 season, giving Leinart a chance to run the offense. But Leinart openly complained about his relationship with coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cleveland Browns castoff Derek Anderson won the job in training camp, and the Cardinals started shopping Leinart.

When the Cardinals couldn't find a good deal, they cut Leinart and saved themselves the $2.5 million he was due to make this season.

Leinart chose his words carefully when he talked about his final days in Arizona.

"The thing I've learned, especially the last couple of years, is control what you can control," he said. "I worked hard, I prepared hard for this season, this preseason. I thought I played well and had a good training camp. It just didn't go as planned. Coach (Whisenhunt) decided to go in a different direction. We had our differences, but I think we respect each other, and it was time to move on, obviously."

After he was cut, Leinart said he went to the beach in California and mulled offers from teams that showed interest in him. The Seattle Seahawks, now led by former USC coach Pete Carroll, were one of them, but Leinart said the team chose to go "in a different direction in their quarterbacks, as far as how many they were taking."

Leinart said the Texans presented the most ideal situation, although he isn't likely to see much action backing up Schaub and Dan Orlovsky.

"My goals are just to work as hard as I can, to pick it up and study as much as I can, and just be prepared to play if I'm ever called upon," he said. "That's the mindset of a quarterback, especially when you're not the starter. I just want to learn. I want to get better as a player."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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