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With spotlight dimmed, QB Leinart hopes for a chance to play

Free-agent quarterback Matt Leinart has heard the "bust" label applied to him during his uneven, five-year NFL career, but it hasn't stopped him from believing he still belongs in the league.

Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2004 and helped USC win successive national championships, was a disappointment with the Arizona Cardinals after they selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.

"I've heard everything. I've seen everything," Leinart told ESPN Radio's "Mason and Ireland" in Los Angeles on Friday. "For me, I haven't proven anything ... I haven't proven that I can play game in and game out. And I understand that. Now, I believe I can play and I'm not one to make excuses. I've never made an excuse in my time with Arizona. It just didn't work out for whatever reasons. ...

"You kind of look at the timeline of what's happened to me and ... having a pretty good rookie year and then the second year just getting the injury and then, you know, Kurt Warner, I mean Kurt Warner played himself into the Hall of Fame the last three years. There's not a lot I can do about that. I battled with a Hall of Famer two training camps in a row."

The Cardinals cut Leinart in September, just days before the start of the regular season. He signed with the Houston Texans but couldn't win the No. 2 job from Dan Orlovsky behind starter Matt Schaub.

Leinart disappeared last season, not throwing a single pass. His distance from the spotlight helped him shed a party-boy image that hampered perception of him coming out of USC.

"Perception is perception," Leinart said. "One person can think one thing of me and then that can escalate and then thousands of people jump on the bandwagon, when it may not even be true."

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Said Leinart: "You look at where I was in college and, I've said it many times, USC was the pro football of California, of L.A., and we were on top. And myself, Reggie (Bush), you know, other guys on the team, it was kind of wherever we went that's how we were treated. (People would say) 'Oh there's USC guys. There's Matt. There's Reggie.'

"I was a 20-, 21-year-old kid, and I feel like I've always remained the same. I've remained humble. I've always worked hard, but at that time, it was kind like wherever we went it was a story, whether it was good or bad. It didn't really matter. There's a few things, you know, I think I've I learned."

Leinart remains confident in his ability to be an NFL starter despite pedestrian career numbers -- 20 interceptions, 14 touchdown passes and no more than eight appearances in any season. What he'd like to happen next is receive an opportunity to start somewhere.

"I thought Houston was a small and good steppingstone for me to get my career back on track and get a chance to compete somewhere and get that opportunity to start," Leinart said. "We'll see what happens. Your guess is as good as mine to see what happens, but I'm excited."

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