Matt Leinart confident he will succeed as Cards' starting quarterback, but understands he has those who doubt him. For a video interview, click here.
Matt Leinart chuckled.
Kurt Warner is retired and as of March 5, the only quarterback the Cardinals will have under contract is Leinart. He's the heir apparent to Warner, a man who has long waited for another chance under center.
But coach Ken Whisenhunt still hasn't told Leinart he's the starter, not a huge surprise given the coach is loathe to just hand players a certain spot.
"I would love him to, but …" Leinart said, seeing the humor in the situation.
It's a matter of semantics. Leinart knows he will be the Cards' guy, and Wednesday, talking for the first time publicly since Warner retired, he made clear he has been anxious for this time to come.
"I do feel like I am the starting quarterback," Leinart said in a phone interview. "I think that's the mindset I have to have and that's the mindset I do have. To be honest, I am not worried about any of that. I feel this is my job and I am going to go out and do well and be the guy they drafted me to be.
"Ultimately, my play will define what people say about me."
Leinart has already been working out in California and admittedly is anxious to return to the field. But he sees the value in staying even-keeled in the offseason, using the time to allow himself, the coaches and his teammates to make the transition to a new quarterback.
Spending time behind Warner was important – "I feel I observed and absorbed as much I as I could from Kurt in our time together," he said – and has left him with little doubts he is ready, even as many outside the team clearly wonder.
Whisenhunt compared Leinart's situation with that of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who sat for a couple of seasons behind Brett Favre before taking over. Rodgers became a Pro Bowler, and while Whisenhunt isn't declaring that for Leinart's future yet, the Cardinals do expect Leinart to be a success.
"Matt has been very fortunate to play behind a quarterback who has played at as high a level as anybody the last couple of years and he has seen the work and the preparation and time that it takes," Whisenhunt said. "We have seen things on the practice field from Matt every day – things that everyone doesn't see -- that lead us to believe he is going to be a good quarterback."
Leinart said while he already feels he has built a level of respect in the locker room, he also is cognizant of the need to continue to earn respect. That's an ongoing process, he said, but he believes he has a solid starting point.
"There is all this talk that my receivers don't trust me, but to me, that's a bunch of nonsense," Leinart said. "I am as close to my wide receivers as Kurt is. I love those guys and we have a great relationship. Not being the starting quarterback, it's a little different, but I know Larry (Fitzgerald) and he said he's got my back. We will work hard, get comfortable with each other, and you know what? It's going to work out."
Leinart's résumé from the 2009 season didn't necessarily feed into that idea. Leinart acknowledges his performances outside of his lone start in Tennessee were "a little shaky, up and down." He believes his showing against the Titans, while not "out of this world" was efficient and showed he was capable of leading a team.
He also knows many outsiders point to his brief appearance in Chicago – in which he threw an interception with the Cards holding a big lead, forcing Whisenhunt to reinsert Warner into the game – as a red flag.
"I had a bad throw and then you don't get a chance to redeem yourself," Leinart said. "That's where people are like, 'He played horrible in that game.' Well, I played four plays. Granted I missed an opportunity and it was my fault. That's why I am excited about this chance. If I have a bad play, I will answer back."
The offense may change, Leinart acknowledged, because he is better under the center instead of shotgun. With his ability to bootleg and run more play-action, the Cards can have new wrinkles. But Leinart also told Whisenhunt he is comfortable running the offense as it is, and Leinart believes it will get even easier as he gains experience.
Leinart is a different player than 2007. He insists he is also a different person. His maturation was the only way he'd ever have a chance to follow the path Warner set.
He waits to play, so the NFL world can see what he sees.
"I could say everything I want to say and believe what I believe, and people are going to continue to either say I'll be OK or I'm not going to be OK," Leinart said. "I understand that. What is exciting is, this is it. This is my chance. That's how I will gain respect, as far as the media, as far as the fans, as far as opponents, my teammates.
"I know this is my season. I know this is my opportunity."
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