Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson talk coming off the field in Flagstaff earlier this month.
CHICAGO – Who takes the third game of the preseason like it's … not important?
That's the game where the starters play the longest. That's the game that's supposed to most closely mirror the regular season.
That's not how the Cardinals are approaching Saturday night against the Bears. But that doesn't mean the Cards suddenly feel it's … not important.
To the contrary, this trip to Soldier Field has become hugely important. Derek Anderson gets a chance to start at quarterback. Matt Leinart has to come off the bench. The decision of who would start there to open the regular season remains unclear – coach Ken Whisenhunt said the quarterback move was one of a handful of shuffles needed to further evaluate his roster. In a training camp overseeing change, this preseason was always going to be a little different.
"It's like (rookie receiver) Stephen Williams getting time with the ones last week and running with the ones this week," Whisenhunt said. "Some of that is because he has a good camp and some of it is because we don't want to move other guys out of their roles. There are all kinds of different factors."
The Cards are juggling receivers. Larry Fitzgerald (knee), Andre Roberts (shoulder) and Darren Mougey (hand), are out, while Early Doucet (abdomen) will be a game-day decision. And rookie Daryl Washington is going to get a chance to start at linebacker.
Yet there is no getting around the biggest story of the night: Leinart versus Anderson.
There was irony that just Wednesday, Leinart was talking about where he thought the offense stood – "There are so many people out there saying opposite, but we are so close," he said – and then Thursday morning, he found out he and Anderson were switching places.
Leinart didn't speak Thursday about Anderson's ascension to the starting job, but he did Friday.
"It is disappointing and a little bit frustrating," Leinart said. "I can't sit up here and say I'm happy and all smiles. It is frustrating. I am not sure the expectation put on me. I have high expectations on myself, and I think, based on my body of work in the preseason, I have been accurate and not turned the ball over."
Leinart said the situation is "mentally draining."
"Can I get better? Absolutely. I know that," Leinart said. "I'm not perfect and I know I have a lot of work to do. If it's open competition, I think you need equal opportunity. Who's to say ... I don't know if that is happening."
Leinart was referencing his 13 preseason pass attempts compared to 41 for Anderson. But part of Leinart's lack of attempts is linked to the inability to keep drives alive, which would have given the Cards more plays while he was in the game.
In fact, when asked what he wanted to see differently from his offense (regardless of quarterback) in Chicago, Whisenhunt quickly said, "First downs."
Anderson simply said he felt like he has made "big strides since the spring" and wanted to keep building on what he has done in camp. Leinart said if Whisenhunt "is testing me, that's fine."
Whatever the reason for Whisenhunt's decision, the coach plans on putting Leinart in sometime later in the second quarter and have him play into the third.
"A lot of people see this as a dress rehearsal game," Whisenhunt said. "We don't look at it that way."
Instead, it's a major exam. For Whisenhunt's team, and for Whisenhunt's quarterbacks.
"I plan on starting that opening game," Leinart said. "I don't think I have played bad at all. I can play better but we all need to play better. We all have a lot of work to do. I'm not going to look much into it. I am going to go out, play my game, and take advantage of the opportunity I get. That's all you can do."
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