Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart stretches before the team's first practice of minicamp Friday morning. (photo by AP/Matt York)
The questions were coming, and Matt Leinart knew it.
Sure, there were going to be questions about the health of the Cardinals' starting quarterback. He hadn't been on the field since breaking his collarbone in the fifth game of the 2007 season, back in October.
But there were also questions about the photos of Leinart posted on the internet more than a month ago, photos of Leinart during a party at his house that caused such a stir nationally – and a situation Leinart had not addressed publicly until Friday, after the Cards' first minicamp practice.
"You learn a lesson and you really move on," Leinart said. "It's something I forgot about until we are talking about it right now."
The beginning of minicamp also is the beginning of a crucial season for Leinart. Heading into his third year, Leinart struggled to grasp coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense last season and then watched injured while Kurt Warner put up gaudy statistics in his absence.
Leinart is the starter. Whisenhunt has said that repeatedly. But Warner waits in the background, and Leinart knows he must produce.
"I know (my teammates) have confidence in me," Leinart said. "I know the coaches have confidence in me. But it's time for me to step up.
"I know the business of this game."
Leinart's first practice was normal. He looked fine throwing the ball, and he said he is physically stronger than he has ever been. He noted not having to be hit for a couple more months will help, but he also said that with what the players are asked to do in the offseason, he has no physical limitations.
Whisenhunt reiterated the team was "pleased" with the work Leinart did not only last season but in the offseason, and complimented Leinart's footwork and passing reads after the first practice.
Whisenhunt added there was "no question in my mind of his commitment."
Asked if Leinart now "gets it" in terms of knowing what is expected and needed to be an NFL quarterback, Whisenhunt talked about the times Leinart showed up for extra work this offseason looking at tape.
"You never know if they 'get it,' but he certainly has shown indications he is committed to being a good player," Whisenhunt said.
Running back Edgerrin James said Leinart simply needs to gain game experience. Until then, it is hard to gauge where Leinart stands.
"That's the thing, when you play, you're gonna get better," James said. "There are going to be some things you're good at, some things you're not good at. But you know those things.
"However it works out, it don't matter. People ask me, 'Who do you prefer?' I say, 'I don't care.' I had the most yards with Matt (playing), but we were ballin' with Kurt, so it don't matter."
Having his teammates behind him is not a worry for Leinart. Neither are the questions about his drive, or a rehashing of the internet photo situation.
Leinart's thought remains the same – that was then, this is now.
"When you play football and your name is out there or you are a person in the spotlight, it's tough," Leinart said. "But like I said, you learn a lesson and you move on. It's football time."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 5/2/08.