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A Visit To The Black Hole

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Matt Leinart attempts a pass in a preseason game at Oakland last season.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Matt Leinart smiled at the idea of playing in Oakland and renewing acquaintances with the members of the famed "Black Hole."

"I remember last year a 7- or 8-year-old giving me something he shouldn't be giving me (verbally)," Leinart said. "I was like, 'God, you've got to be kidding me.' I heard a whole bunch of stuff, personal stuff that I can't repeat. They are crazy there … they do not care, and they are right up on you."

Leinart can joke about the fans, but his two trips to Oakland as a Cardinal have

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: McAfee Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
TV: ABC-15 
Radio: News/Talk 92.3 FM (pregame at 3 p.m.)

not been pretty. Saturday night, he'll see the Raiders again in a preseason game, needing once again to show he has progressed as an NFL quarterback.

Two years ago, Leinart's lone regular-season start in Oakland was a disaster as the Raiders tortured the Cards' offense all game and began the countdown to coach Dennis Green's firing. Last season, the Cards opened the preseason on the road against the Raiders, and Leinart finished 5-of-11 for 50 yards while showing some signs that he wasn't particularly sharp in coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense.

The Raiders figure to test Leinart again. Last season, there were some on the Cardinals who weren't particularly thrilled that the Raiders in the first preseason game came out with a complicated "46" defensive look – a much more complex gameplan than most exhibition openers.

Leinart mentioned that Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, whom Leinart grew close to when Kiffin was on the coaching staff at USC while Leinart was there, sent a message through people that the Raiders would "come after" Leinart this game.

It was done in good fun, but with what Leinart still has on the line – attempting to nail down the starting quarterback job over Kurt Warner – it could have an impact.

Whisenhunt said the Cards still aren't gameplanning, not in the preseason. So he smiled when asked if it was good to take on what could be a more-advance Raiders defense.

"Can I reserve judgment until afterward?" Whisenhunt said. "It is a great opportunity. A lot of time what you see in preseason is vanilla defenses and you're not getting an accurate assessment of your blitz pickups or you hot adjustments, those type of things."

That may not be a problem Saturday.

Leinart won't play the entire first half; Warner is expected to come in sometime during the second quarter. Earlier this week, Whisenhunt was intentionally vague about when he would say the quarterback situation was completely settled.

Whisenhunt also downplayed the "third preseason game" factor, in which the regular-season starters historically play a good chunk of the game. Whisenhunt said evaluations continue; for instance, he downplayed the fact Travis LaBoy is starting at "predator" linebacker in place of Bertrand Berry this game.

"We are at the point where we want to play our players  a little longer together so they get a better feel, but it's not necessarily an indication who is going to start because there is still two weeks left of camp," Whisenhunt said.

That's why Leinart needs a solid performance, all while trying to ignore any ugliness he might hear from the fans.

"It's not what I would say it is a fun environment," Leinart said, "but it's cool."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 8/22/08.

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