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Up-and-down Leinart confident he can lead Cardinals as starting QB

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Matt Leinart's first practice since Kurt Warner retired didn't go the way the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback would have liked.

"My accuracy wasn't where I wanted it to be, but it's the first day," Leinart said Friday after the first of two minicamp practices.

Still, Leinart said he's confident that he's ready to take over the Cardinals' offense.

"This is an opportunity that I've been waiting for, for a long time," said Leinart, who was named Arizona's starter after Warner stepped away from the game in January.

Leinart was the Cardinals' starter entering the 2008 season, but he eventually was beaten out by Warner, who then led Arizona to consecutive NFC West titles and the Super Bowl.

Leinart's top competition this year is longtime friend Derek Anderson, whom the quarterback has known since he was 17, but he said his mental approach is the same.

"I'm just kind of going about like I've always been," said Leinart, Arizona's top draft pick in 2006. "Obviously, it's different now that I'm starting. I've just got to have that mindset and be confident and lead this football team and be me."

After Leinart's up-and-down showing in his first four NFL seasons, there are still doubts about his ability to lead an NFL team.

Leinart threw for an NFL rookie-record 405 yards in a game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2006, and he also had three games with a passer rating of at least 100 that season. He finished with a completion percentage of 56.8, but it declined each of the next two years.

Leinart played well in his lone start last season at Tennessee, where he was asked to mostly manage the game -- he completed 21 of 31 passes -- but ended the year with a poor showing. Leinart threw two interceptions in the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers.

"Last year was last year, and this is a new season," Leinart said.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said he likes how Leinart is approaching this year and has indicated he wasn't concerned about how last year ended.

"There's a little bit different feel with Matt," Whisenhunt said. "He knows now he's the guy. He's the one everybody's looking at. It's different when you've got Kurt Warner here with everything he brings. I don't see any difference as far as the time Matt's putting in or how hard he's working on the field."

Leinart made it clear that he won't be successful trying to be the next Warner.

"I'm not trying to be anybody else but me," he said. "I've just got to go out there and do what I know I can do and just be a leader on this football team, work hard and get better every day."

In what could be a make-or-break year for him with the Cardinals, Leinart knows the pressure to produce is on him.

"As a starting quarterback, obviously all eyes are on you, and you are the leader of the football team," he said. "I know that my guys around me -- both sides of the ball -- are going to be counting on me to step up, and that's what I count on doing."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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